Penn State Researchers Study Giant Clam to Enhance Algal Biofuel Production

Giant clams are mollusks that can grow up to three-feet long and weigh hundreds of pounds. The surfaces of giant clams are iridescent, appearing to sparkle before the naked eye due to the lustrous cells on the surface of the clam that scatter bright sunlight among the thick layer of algae living inside the clam which then efficiently converts sunlight into fuel. Using what they learn from these giant clams, Alison Sweeney of the Penn State University hope to improve the process of producing biofuel.

Sweeney and colleague Shu Yang aimed to create a material that works similarly. They came up with a method of synthesizing nanoparticles and adding them to a mixture of water, oil, and surfactants to form microbeads mimicking the iridocytes, the cells in giant clams responsible for solar transformation. The mixture was then shaken at the right speed to control the droplet size, functioning very similarly to the clam cells.

The researchers' next step is to try to mimic the organization of the algae within the clams by getting them to grow in pillars. They then plan to combine their artificial iridocytes and the algae and measure the system to produce fuel at efficiencies at par with the giant clam. If successful, the method can be used for photosynthesis to enhance the efficiency of biofuel production.


This article is part of the Crop Biotech Update, a weekly summary of world developments in agri-biotech for developing countries, produced by the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology, International Service for the Aquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications SEAsiaCenter (ISAAA)

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