Project title: The Energetics of photosynthesis to understand stress response of microalgae
Supervisors: Prof. Peter Ralph, Dr Milan Szabo, Dr Alsonso Zavaleta Fernandez de Cordova
Cyanobacteria, a microalgae under the definition of a ‘microscopic photosynthetic organism’; are responsible for up to 20-40% of carbon fixation in the oceans helping to mitigate the effects of a changing climate. The recent rise in interest of microalgae is associated with their potential in biotechnical applications, their biochemical composition and their high biodiversity. From biofuels to food, to their valuable bioactive compounds, it is clear that microalgae are likely to be at the forefront of renewable energies, pharmacology, biomedicine and biotechnology in the not too distant future.
The process of photosynthesis is dynamic and optimising microalgal growth will be necessary for the biotechnological applications mentioned above. Photosynthesis as the main source of energy production in many microalgae, is the determining factor in the efficiency of microalgal culture which is of particular interest for biofuel applications. Understanding the adaptive capacity of photosynthesis within microalgal species and strains could lead to improved yields of biofuel and create more efficient growth for other biotechnical applications involving microalgae.
Currently there is no method upon which large scale photosynthetic assessment (known as photosynthetic phenomics, or large scale phenotyping) can be carried out. This will be an important step in identifying strains and species of algae that exhibit dynamic photosynthetic traits, allowing for a greater efficiency of microalgal culturing techniques.
This project aims to address the three factors of photosynthetic phenomics; (1) the biological, (2) the instrumental and (3) the analytical.
The biological involves reducing variables with the same stringent quality to which small scale experiments would be carried out. This reduces the risk of potentially confounding factors being realised in the later stages of the experiment.
The instrumental factors deals with all factors relating to the equipment used, from fluorometers to robotic controls of cultures. The incorporation of robotics will be instrumental in reducing the ‘man hours’ that would otherwise be involved in assessing a large array of strains and/or species.
Finally, the analytic aspect of the investigation will address the problems found when large data sets are collected from the instruments after an experiment. This involves a lot of automated scripts which process data that is of interest with as little human interaction as possible. The output will be a concise data set which allows for easy interpretation regarding photosynthetic activity in the microalgae.
If all three factors can be addressed sufficiently, a platform will then exist for future phenomic studies regarding different species and different phenotypes.