Establishment of a Bioenergy-Focused Microalgal Strain Collection Using Rapid, High-Throughput Methodologies
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As concerns over U.S. energy security and global warming increase, the need to develop alternative and renewable sources of energy is more important than ever before. One promising renewable energy scenario involves the use of microalgae as feedstocks that convert solar radiation and CO2 into chemical intermediates, such as oils, hydrocarbons and carbohydrates that can be harvested and readily converted into biofuels. To identify microalgae strains exhibiting superior production of biofuels, screening of large numbers of diverse strains is essential. It has been estimated that approximately 35,000 algal species have been identified worldwide. However, as many as 200,000 to 1 million species may exist in nature. Therefore, only a very minute amount of this enormous biological and genetic diversity has been explored. Given the enormous amount of potentially valuable biodiversity that remains undiscovered, we engaged in a microalgal bioprospecting project that used Fluorescence Activated Cell Sorting (FACS) as a means to rapidly isolate and identify 500 unique microalgal strains from a variety of aquatic environments in the Southwestern part of the United States. Screening of these isolates with confocal fluorescence microscopy and a lipophilic dye specific for neutral lipids identified many microalgal strains with significant oil production capabilities.&'