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Researchers at the University of Technology Sydney in the Climate Change Cluster (C3) have partnered with Photon Systems Instruments (PSI) to develop and install an automated robotic system that can analyze thousands of types of algae every day.
The Algae Phenotyping System is able to automate the long, manual process of identifying the traits present in different strains of algae.
Photosynthesizing algae plays an important role in soaking up carbon from the atmosphere and putting more oxygen into it. Algae in the ocean produces around 70% of oxygen in the atmosphere, according to the University of Berkeley.
When grown in a bioreactor, algae can soak up carbon from the atmosphere up to 40 times more efficiently than trees. With the right combination of traits, this algae can be used in a variety of industries to help remove carbon from their manufacturing processes, such as food and beverage, textile fibre, bioplastics and biofuel.
Manually, it takes scientists around six months of full-time experimental work to identify traits in just one strain of algae. The system can perform the same process in just one week. The Algae Phenotyping System works at the speed of 20 scientists working 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Our collaboration with PSI…is a game changer in the pursuit of using ‘super algae’ to combat climate change, and will create a new algal biotech industry here in Australia,” Peter Ralph, professor and director of C3 at UTS, said.
“For every algae species we have in culture, there are hundreds of thousands that are yet to be identified. By drastically accelerating the discovery and characterisation of using this advanced tech, we are unlocking enormous potential for industry to quickly utilise ‘super algae’ to decarbonise their manufacturing processes.”
PSI develops and manufactures high-end instruments for biological research. The company specializes in manufacturing instruments for measurement and imaging of optical signals in plants and algae.
“UTS is leading the way in characterising and better understanding how super algae can play a critical role in decelerating climate change,” Martin Trtilek, founder and CEO of PSI, said. “For this reason, we believe that Australia can be on the forefront of this field, developing new technologies and providing vast benefits to industry. In turn we should see significant revenue increase in end user companies as well as new job creation.”
Once the team installs the robotic system, UTS and PSI plan to collaborate further to adapt it to analyze traits in different strains of seaweed.