New York Times June 15, 2001

New Algae Grows in Darkness

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Inserting a single new gene into the DNA of a type of algae allowed the microscopic plant to thrive in darkness, growing vigorously without the need for sunlight, scientists say.

In a study appearing Friday in the journal Science, researchers from Martek Biosciences Corp. in Columbia, Md., and the Carnegie Institution of Washington department of biology in Palo Alto, Calif., report that a microalgae was engineered to use glucose as its primary energy source instead of sunlight.

The algae, as do most plants, normally gets its energy through a photosynthesis process that requires sunlight.

Kirk E. Apt of Martek, a co-author of the study, said that converting the algae so that it thrived in darkness was accomplished by splicing into the plant a human gene that directs the movement in a cell of glucose.

Apt said the engineered algae, called Phaeodactylum tricornutum, was chosen for the experiment, but that a commercial application of the gene engineering will come in other types of algae.

Algae is used in foods, pigments, cosmetics and animal feed. It is commonly grown in sunlit ponds where it is difficult to control the quality and purity of the harvested plants.

Apt said that by genetically weaning algae of its need for sunlight, the plant could be grown in enclosed vats where the results could be carefully controlled.

File Date: 6.15.01