Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary research institution engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security, have genetically engineered “magnetic” algae to investigate alternative, more efficient harvesting and lipid extraction methods for biofuels.

The project, led by Pulak Nath of the Lab’s Applied Modern Physics group and Scott Twary of LANL’s Biosecurity and Public Health group took a gene that is known to form magnetic nanoparticles in magnetotactic bacteria and expressed it in green algae. Magnetotactic bacteria are anaerobic microorganisms that follow the earth’s magnetic field to avoid exposure to oxygen. A permanent magnet can be used to separate the transformed algae from a solution.

The scientists think that the magnetic nanoparticles formed within the algae cause the cells to respond to magnetic fields. These biogenic magnetic nanoparticles could also be harvested separately and used as a valuable co-product for biomedical imaging and cancer treatments.

Other LANL team members include student Maria Avrutsky and postdoctoral researcher Chaitanya Chandrana.