Scientists complete 1st EPA-Approved outdoor trial for engineered algae

May 7, 2017 |

In California, scientists at the University of California San Diego and Sapphire Energy have successfully completed the first outdoor field trial sanctioned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for genetically engineered algae.

In a series of experiments funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the researchers tested a genetically engineered strain of algae in outdoor ponds under real-world conditions. As reported in the journal Algal Research, the researchers conclude that genetically engineered algae can be successfully cultivated outdoors while maintaining engineered traits, and, most importantly, without adversely impacting native algae populations.

Under the EPA’s purview over a 50-day experiment, the scientists cultured strains of the algae species Acutodesmus dimorphus—genetically engineered with genes for fatty acid biosynthesis and green fluorescent protein expression—in parallel with non-engineered algal species. Testing both algae strains in water samples taken from five regional lakes showed strikingly similar levels of growth in the tests, and that the genetic modification did not change the impact of the cultivated strains on native algae communities.

Future testing will include additional gene types in experiments that run several months, allowing the researchers to further evaluate influences from weather, seasonal shifts and other environmental factors.

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