U.S. Department of Energy Awards Funding to Ginkgo-led Team for Developing Algal Crop Protection Solutions

Today we’re thrilled to announce that a Ginkgo-led team — including partners from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Colorado School of Mines, and Global Algae Innovations — has been awarded funding through the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO).

The scope of the project will be to develop a new approach to algal crop protection, inspired by integrated pest management strategies used for terrestrial crops.

Fueling the Future with Algae-Based Biotechnology

The awarded project is part of DOE’s investment in the development of clean energy solutions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. More specifically, this project is focused on improving  algal biotechnology to enable increased production of affordable biofuels and bioproducts from atmospheric CO2 at large scales.

Microscopic Pests Threaten Valuable Algal Crops

A major barrier to scaling algal biotechnologies is predation on algae by microscopic ‘pests’ in open outdoor ponds. Current algal pest management strategies are generally not specific to a singular pest and include chemical or environmental control methods that can negatively impact algal productivity and increase pest resistance. There is a clear need for algal crop protection solutions that are highly selective against specific algal pests, are safe to use in aquaculture feeds for animal consumption, and do not produce detrimental environmental impacts commonly associated with traditional pesticides.

Environmentally-Friendly Solutions for Algal Crop Protection

Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are short chains of amino acids exhibiting antimicrobial activity that are considered a more environmentally-friendly alternative to conventional chemical pesticides. A wide range of organisms, including bacteria, plants, and animals naturally produce AMPs.

The Ginkgo-led team will work to develop new algal pest-specific AMPs and at the same time use powerful adaptive laboratory evolution (ALE) capabilities to increase the tolerance of the algae and of their protective microbiome to AMP treatment. This combination of AMP treatment and evolved AMP tolerance holds significant potential for reducing the frequency of pest-related crashes in commercial algal ponds—during which the ponds can rapidly go from healthy and vibrant to sick and dead—and simultaneously increasing productivity. The team will also work to augment their understanding of outdoor pond ecologies via metagenomic and transcriptomic screening.

We built our platform to help partners in sustainability like the DOE to enable novel and improved energy solutions.

We’re excited to leverage our uniquely powerful AMP and adaptive laboratory evolution (ALE) technologies. This project is built around a world-class team of research and development partners, and we’re proud to do our part to bring this promising crop protection strategy forward. We are eager to play a critical role in this space for our government partners and commercial algae cultivators around the world.

If successful, this BETO investment has the potential to unlock a new suite of algal crop protection strategies to enhance productivity in outdoor environments. In the future, such aquaculture protection strategies could be used to enhance the economic viability of algae-based biomanufacturing to produce a range of products such as biofuels, nutritional supplements, cosmetics, and bioplastics from atmospheric CO2 and sunlight, further enabling collective efforts toward carbon neutral production processes.

What will you grow with Ginkgo?

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