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Courtesy of Mike Allen and Steve Gschmeissner

High value chemicals from algae: Developing a transgene-free genome editing toolbox to enhance carotenoid production (PHYCONET round 3 PoC)

Principle investigator: Attila Molnar
University of Edinburgh

The products that we use every day and the foods that we eat are made up or a myriad of compounds, many of which are produced by the $3 trillion global chemicals industry. There is a significant burden of expectation placed on industrial biotechnology to produce more sustainable synthetic routes and to provide countries such as the UK a globally competitive position in a new manufacturing sector. New tools and technologies are needed to establish commercially competitive bioproduction in order to move away from unsustainable extraction from natural sources or environmentally costly synthetic chemistry production.
Astaxanthin is used as a feed supplement to enhance red pigments in salmon, crabs, shrimp and chicken products. In addition it is a dietary supplement for humans for antioxidant activity. The astaxanthin market was 280 metric tons valued at US$447 million in 2014 and is projected to reach 670 metric tons valued at US$1.1 billion by 2020 (source Global Astaxanthin Market – March 2015). The current market is dominated by synthetic astaxanthin (price is above $2500/kg, total market value is over $240M/year, Han et al., 2013).Because the synthetic version contains a mixture of stereoisomers with highly different biological activity/pigmentation, there is increasing demand for natural, more efficient products.
The goal of this application is to develop a transgene-free genome editing toolbox and to demonstrate its utility by enhancing astaxhantin biogenesis in microalgae with our partner, Scottish Bioenergy. The tools that currently exist rely on the expression of transgenes, which is not acceptable in many countries. Scottish Bioenergy designs, installs and operates microalgal photobioreactor systems for biochemical production and is seeking new approaches to meet this market demand. Its current business is focused on the production of the phycobiliprotein C-phycocyanin (C-PC). It is seeking to diversify its business through expansion into other high value pigments for food and cosmetic markets. Thus developing a highly customisable genome editing technology would pave the path to modify any biosynthetic pathways and to produce high value biochemical with transgene-free designer algae.