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Lawrence Livermore partners with GALT on $1.5M project to improve biofuel algae

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has been awarded a 3-year, $1.5-million grant by the US Department of Energy to improve the growth and efficiency of biofuel-producing algae through the alteration of their microbiomes. LLNL will partner with San Francisco-based General Automation Lab Technologies (GALT) in the use of a novel high-throughput microbiome research technology.

The use of the GALT technology will enable the testing of tens of thousands of unique microbiomes on algal physiology. The project also aims to reduce wasted byproducts of photosynthesis by targeting microbiomes that can more efficiently recycle it back to carbon dioxide for the algae to grow better.

The team will specifically target bacteria that are able to increase biomass yield under high light and temperature stress conditions, which occur in desert environments such as Arizona, where plenty of sunlight and useable land exists and could one day support viable algal biofuel production facilities.

This work will allow us to leverage the power of microbes that are traditionally unculturable—an important and necessary first step toward microbiome engineering.

—co-investigator and LLNL postdoctoral researcher Ty Samo

In addition to enriching the US energy research portfolio, the work will provide fundamental insights on influential yet understudied microbiota.

GALT uses microfabricated arrays which contain thousands of nanoscale growth chambers to isolate and culture multiple microbial strains. When a sample is loaded into the array, microbes self-sort into individual microwells, many forming single-strain microcolonies.

The array becomes a digital snapshot of the microbiome. Researchers can interrogate arrays for whatever they’re looking for: enzymes, gene signatures, metabolites, species. Once target microbes have been identified, a high-precision instrument transfers clones to standard multi-well plates.

The GALT platform is both species- and assay-agnostic. Researchers can use their own media to grow target microbes and identify isolated strains with high-throughput DNA sequencing, fluorescence, metabolomic and other assays. OuGALT says that its technology improves microbiologists’ ability to tease out single strains from complex, mixed samples and grow strains that might not thrive on a plate.

The opportunity to screen tens of thousands of microbiome combinations to find the needle in a haystack using GALT’s novel technology was too good to pass up.

—principal investigator and LLNL staff scientist Xavier Mayali

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