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Michael A. Borowitzka

Algal Biotechnology

The principal research concerns the commercial-scale production of fine chemicals such as carotenoids, fatty acids and bioactive molecules by large-scale algal culture. Other research topics are: (a) microalgae culture for CO2 bioremediation using coccolithophorid algae, (b) production of biodiesel using microalgae, (d) algae for aquaculture, and (e) limiting factors to growth and productivity of microalgae in large-scale cultures. The research is always conducted in an economic context, with economic modeling an integral tool guiding research priorities and directions.

Algae Biofuels

We are developing a commercially viable process of producing biofuels (biodiesel and bioethanol) from microalgae growing in saline water. The work covers the whole process from the production of lipid rich algal biomass to harvesting and extraction of the lipids and potential uses of the remaining biomass (much of the downstream processing work is in collaboration with Drs D. Lewis & P. Ashman at the University of Adelaide). Long-term (over 2 years) outdoor trials in mini-ponds in Perth have been extremely successful and a pilot plant was constructed in Karratha, WA and commissioned in November 2010. This ius the first algae biofuels pilot plant in Australia. The plant is now operated by Muradel Pty Ltd, a joint venture company of Murdoch University, the University of Adelaide and SQC Pty Ltd.

We are also studying hydrocarbon and lipid production in Botryococcus braunii with a focus on maximising hydrocarbon productivity.

Carotenoids

The production of ß-carotene using the alga Dunaliella salina is now commercialied and produuction occurs at the Cognis plant at Hutt Lagoon, Western Australia. Several processes for the production of astaxanthin using the green freshwater alga, Haematococcus pluvialis have also been developed and are being further optimised. We have a very large culture collection of both Dunaliella and Haematococcus species as well as other carotenoid-overproducing algae such as Chlorella fusca. Research on the production of carotenoids such as lutein is currently under way.

Algal Physiology

We are using Pulse Amplitude Modulated fluorometry (PAM) to study photosynthesis in marine phytoplankton, especially in chlorophyll c containing species. The aim is to develop better methods for using PAM fluorometry for measurements of primary production and the nutritional status of the algae. Some work has also been done on the relationship between in situ fluorometry and sattelite data on ocean colour.

Symbiosis

Most sponges contain symbiotic organisms. My main interest is the photosynthetic symbionts: cyanobacteria, red algae, zooxanthellae and green algae. What is the role these symbiont play in the ecophysiology of the sponge and what role (if any) do they have in the production of secondary metabolites. In collaboration with Prof Roz Hinde (University of Sydney) we have studied two species of sponge in particular: Dysidea herbacea which contains the cyanobacterial symbiont, Oscillatoria spongeliae, and the symbiosis between the red alga Ceratodictyon spongiosum and the sponge Halichondria cymodoceae.

Coral Reef Ecology Most of this work is undertaken at One Tree Reef, Great Barrier Reef and concerns the role of turf algae and the microphytobenthos in reef primary production. We have also studied the distribution and productivity of algae in the Dampier Archipelago.

Intertidal Ecology The ecology of the intertidal in South-western Western Australia is little known. The region has a low tidal range and the rocky intertidal is dominated by almost flat limestone platforms located at about the low tide mark. These platforms are algae dominated and are often influenced by sand. In some areas groundwater also appears to be an important influence.

Ecology of Seagrass Epiphytes The south-western coastline of WA is dominated by seagrass beds, especially species of Posidonia and Amphibolis. These seagrasses carry a heavy load of epiphytic algae and invertebrates and we have been studying the factors influencing the distribution and abundance of these epiphytes.

Toxic Algae Research on the physiology of toxin production in PSP-producing dinoflagellates and on the rapid detection of saxitoxin using immunoassay kits is currently under way.

 

 

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