Researchers at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) 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 study revealed green algae could act as an alternative to palm oil due to its unique attributes, which have made it able to adapt to its surrounding climate.
“The alga belongs to the Chloroidium genus… 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,” explained Kourosh Salehi-Ashtiani, associate professor of biology at NYUAD.
“Among these unique attributes [found in the algae] 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,” added David Nelson, NYUAD research scientist and lead author of the study. Palmitate is a saturated fatty acid normally found in plants and animals.
“The high concentration of palmitic acid promotes a similar composition of Chloroidium oil to that of palm oil,” he said.
Salehi-Asthiani explained that having an alternative to palm oil would be beneficial for the environment, especially when it comes to protecting rainforests.
“Being a high-value oil with a global production of up to 60 million metric tonnes 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 palm oil in their products,” he said.
“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,” he added.