Modified microalgae converts sunlight into cheap drugs

London, May 21 (IANS) A team of scientists has genetically modified microalgae to produce valuable chemicals to be used in drugs for deadly diseases like cancer by harnessing energy from the sun.

According to researchers, the method basically allows sunlight being transformed into everything ranging from chemotherapy or bioplastics to valuable flavour and fragrance compounds.

“Our study shows that it is possible to optimise the enzymatic processes in the cells using only sunlight, water and carbon dioxide (CO2) by growing them in transparent plastic bags in a greenhouse,” said Thiyagarajan Gnanasekaran, post-doctoral researcher at University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

The method can be run sustainably and may also pave way for an efficient, inexpensive and environmentally friendly process of producing a variety of chemicals, such as pharmaceutical compounds.

“The idea is that we hijack a portion of the energy produced by the microalgae from their photosynthetic systems. By redirecting that energy to a genetically modified part of the cell capable of producing various complex chemical materials, we induce the light driven biosynthesis of these compounds,” added Agnieszka Janina Zygadlo Nielsen, post-doctoral researcher at University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

The findings are detailed in the journal Metabolic Engineering.

However, the team noted that the microalgae use much of the harnessed sunlight to keep their own metabolic processes running.

“It is difficult to produce large quantities of the desired compounds in microalgae because they have to use a large amount of the produced energy for themselves, since they are fully photosynthetic organisms,” Gnanasekaran said.



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