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Enhanced Production of Biofuel Precursors in Microalgae

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

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Technology Marketing Summary

A research team at Berkeley Lab has uncovered important transcription factors (TFs) that can be manipulated to lead to overproduction of lipids in oil-rich microalgae. The gene and targeted genetic engineering approach also uncouples lipid accumulation from the yield-limiting nutrient starvation schemes that are currently used in algal lipid production, representing a major milestone on the path to making algal biofuels commercially viable.


The Berkeley Lab invention differs from previous strategies in its focus on the over-expression of regulatory proteins to up-regulate the activity of multiple enzymes in the TAG biosynthetic pathway. This approach affects large numbers of genes in multiple pathways, leading to an integrated regulation of these pathways simultaneously.

This discovery was made via a novel, integrated experimental platform to dissect the genetic regulatory pathways of TAG synthesis. The researchers’ invention describes the use of these genes, their protein products, and the transgenic strains as agents to produce biodiesel at economic scale, turning these lipid over-producing microalgae into green cell factories to produce commercial biodiesel.

Biodiesel, although highly desirable and useful around the globe, makes up only 0.14% of transportation fuel consumption. Previous efforts to stimulate overproduction of lipids in microalgae have been hindered either by results that were harmful to cell growth or by emerging secondary bottlenecks. Approaches — such as manipulation of nutritional or cultivation conditions and genetic engineering — could not achieve these capabilities and resultant strains due to the lack of knowledge about specific regulators. Pathway engineering is required for efficient fuel production, yet there has been only a rudimentary understanding of metabolic regulation in algae. A systems-level understanding of metabolic regulation in microalgae is needed. The Berkeley Lab invention enables such an approach.

  • Simultaneously maximizes both algal growth and lipid accumulation
  • Covers large numbers of genes in multiple pathways
Applications and Industries
  • Oil / biodiesel production
  • Algal strain improvement and targeted engineering
  • Agriculture industries
  • Biotech research, e.g. identifying master regulators for stress-elicited responses
Technology Status
Technology IDDevelopment StageAvailabilityPublishedLast Updated

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To: Shanshan Li<>