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Developing photosynthetic microbial cell factories

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The development of microalgal cell systems for the sustainable production of biomass-derived foods, chemicals and fuels is a global research aim that is driven by the need to develop alternative, carbon-neutral sources of these feedstocks in response to climate change. Such applications require highly efficient microalgal strains and are favored in regions of high insolation and warm year-round temperatures. The climate, environment and industrial infrastructure of Saudi Arabia make it the preeminent location in which to establish algal biotechnology, however, despite intensive international research efforts, less than 100 microalgal strains with potential to act as photosynthetic cell factories have been described and none of these can operate efficiently under Saudi conditions.

To realize the potential for algal biotechnology in Saudi Arabia, new microalga and cyanobacteria cell factory strains must be developed that can thrive in the harsh KSA climate and utilize marine water-based growth media. My group has developed an isolation-characterization-engineering pipeline that targets highly robust Red Sea microalgae and cyanobacteria from which photosynthetic cell factories have been developed using directed evolution and synthetic biology approaches.

To date, we have generated over 1,200 primary isolates from which a 120 lead strains were generated. From the latter, through genomics-led directed evolution and synthetic biology approaches, optimized lead strains have been engineered and validated at industrial pilot scale. These strains are new to science and their fundamental study provides insights into phototroph-heterotroph symbiosis, adaptation to high salinity, insolation and temperature. Arising from this, we have formed Kyanos the first biotechnology manufacturing venture in Saudi Arabia.

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