Phytoplankton are key primary producers that in nature drive entire ocean ecosystems. In the future, cultivated microalgae will also play increasingly important roles in the production of sustainable foods, feeds, and low-carbon renewable materials. Microalgae strains with higher yields and faster growth rates will offer major advantages by reducing the cultivation costs, and in doing so help algal materials competitively replace incumbent products. The overall goal of EXCELL is to develop methods of breeding more productive phytoplankton and to uncover the genetic and biological mechanisms that underpin breeding and selection in single microalgae cells.
EXCELL will test several key methods implemented with cell and bioreactor-based technologies with the following objectives: (1) Study industry-relevant traits in phytoplankton cells. (2) Establish how selection on traits impacts cell characteristics (3) Test adaptive processes as a tool to improve phytoplankton cells (4) establish the feasibility and impact of different breeding methods in microalgae, and (5) Determine how phytoplankton traits and genomes are shaped by selection.
EXCELL will be implemented through collaboration between two teams of researchers at Nord University (Norway) and Colorado School of Mines (USA). Both groups share a common goal of developing and improving microalgae production technologies for addressing food, climate and energy-based problems using molecular biology and engineering approaches.
The results are expected to increase the efficiency of large-scale microalgae cultivation and in this respect the project is aligned with UN Sustainability Goal 12: responsible production and consumption. Scientific elements of EXCELL equally apply to natural systems that are undergoing a period of environmental change, and the project will secondly generate important data about the adaptability of microalgae in the natural world.
Phytoplankton are key primary producers that drive entire ocean ecosystems, climate dynamics and global biogeochemical cycles. In the future, microalgae cultivated in large-scale ponds and bioreactors will play increasingly important roles in the production of healthy, sustainable foods and the development of renewable materials. To accelerate the impact of emerging microalgae industries, improved and resilient algae strains are needed to increase product yields and to reduce the monetary and environmental costs of production. Strains with higher yields and faster growth rates will offer major advantages by reducing the per-unit costs of algal production, and in doing so competitively replace incumbent products. EXCELL will develop advanced methods of breeding more productive phytoplankton and uncover the genetic and biological mechanisms that underpin breeding and trait improvement in single algae cells.
To do this, EXCELL will test classical selection and hybridization methods implemented with state-of-the-art cell and bioreactor-based technologies for breeding and improving microalgae with higher yields and adaptation to new climates. The project focuses on three major technical challenges; the accurate phenotyping and selecting of microalgae cells, adaptive experimental evolution and, significantly, the potential of breeding phytoplankton through hybridization. Results will be most significant for the emerging global microalgae industry, and more widely in context with phytoplankton in natural systems that must adapt to unprecedented environmental challenges.