Researchers at New York University Abu Dhabi, in collaboration with other groups, have discovered that the unique genomic traits that allow local green algae to survive in a desert climate may have far-reaching potential for biotechnical applications.
“The alga belongs to the Chloroidium genus, which we repeatedly isolated from various locations in the UAE,” said Kourosh Salehi-Ashtiani, associate professor of biology at NYUAD.
“It has demonstrated particularly diverse properties to suit its surrounding climate, being able to grow in fresh water as well as waters with twice the salinity of seawater, in addition to being able to grow both autotrophically like plants and heterotrophically like fungi or animal cells,” he explained.
The study provides insight into the adaptations that this alga has made for it to succeed in this region and concludes that its extensive properties make Chloroidium an ideal candidate for environmental developments.
“Among these unique attributes are an ability to consume a broad range of carbon sources, including desiccation tolerance-promoting sugars and the accumulation of unusually large stores of palmitate. The high concentration of palmitic acid promotes a similar composition of Chloroidium oil to that of palm oil,” said David Nelson, NYUAD research scientist and lead author of the study, which is now published in eLife.
“Being a high-value oil with a global production of up to 60 million metric tons per year, palm oil cultivation has previously been associated with deforestation and the devastation of rainforests throughout Asia, raising significant environmental concerns as many European markets are now banning the use of oil palm in their products,” Salehi-Ashtiani explained.
“We believe this alga may provide an environmentally sound alternative to the cultivation of palm oil once it is further developed, and can be of both commercial and environmental benefit to pursue with extensive investigations.”
Comparison has already been made between Chloroidium and other sequenced green algae, revealing the singular nature of the robust and flexible biology utilized by a green alga to successfully inhabit the harsh environment of the UAE’s desert coastline and identifying it as a lucrative subject for further study.