Purple Slime and the Fuelabolic pathway

June 27, 2013 |

tunicates-2Forget Purple Haze. Let’s celebrate the wonders of Purple Slime, and tunicates.

And while we’re at it, let’s look beyond the metabolic pathway and towards the fuelabolic pathway.

Consider the tunicate. No, it’s not a garment you wear to a fraternity toga party. No, not what you use in case of a snake bite.

It’s a small, tubular, jellyesque, prolifically reproducing marine family that lives just about wherever marine bacteria and algae are found.

If you haven’t focused on them before, it may because, commonly known as sea squirts, they don’t appear to perform any useful function. To the casual observer, they do little except attach themselves to rocks, ropes, boat hulls, docks and marinas, pulling water in and squirting it out in a manner reminiscent of the Seven Dwarves whistling to “Heigh Ho!”.

Some of them look more like purple and orange vibrating blobs — the marine equivalent of a purposeless loafer living off the national bounty and the public dole.

But, it’s just a bad reputation.

One thing they do well is clean the waters in coastal areas. Essentially, they are living water filters that suck bacteria and other microorganisms into one end and excrete purified water out the other end.

So, why are they appearing today in Biofuels Digest?

Ah, they are the only animals that produce cellulose — and no lignin, either —– and they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which people and fish both need but do not synthesize. It makes them a potential alternative for biofuels production and as a feed ingredient for farmed fish. Dried tunicates contain 60 per cent protein. Perhaps just as importantly, salmon find them tasty.

In today’s Digest, we explore the concepts behind multi-step, “fuelabolic” pathways from organic molecular soups to finished fuels, the particular case of tunicates, their commercial prospects and promise, a Norwegian project working on them right now, the problems and opportunities in dewatering and harvesting fuels — and the bottom line, via the page links below.

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