Biocontainment of Genetically Engineered Algae

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11 Scopus Citations


Algae (including eukaryotic microalgae and cyanobacteria) have been genetically engineered to convert light and carbon dioxide to many industrially and commercially relevant chemicals including biofuels, materials, and nutritional products. At industrial scale, genetically engineered algae may be cultivated outdoors in open ponds or in closed photobioreactors. In either case, industry would need to address a potential risk of the release of the engineered algae into the natural environment, resulting in potential negative impacts to the environment. Genetic biocontainment strategies are therefore under development to reduce the probability that these engineered bacteria can survive outside of the laboratory or industrial setting. These include active strategies that aim to kill the escaped cells by expression of toxic proteins, and passive strategies that use knockouts of native genes to reduce fitness outside of the controlled environment of labs and industrial cultivation systems. Several biocontainment strategies have demonstrated escape frequencies below detection limits. However, they have typically done so in carefully controlled experiments which may fail to capture mechanisms of escape that may arise in the more complex natural environment. The selection of biocontainment strategies that can effectively kill cells outside the lab, while maintaining maximum productivity inside the lab and without the need for relatively expensive chemicals will benefit from further attention.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number839446
Number of pages10
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
StatePublished - 2 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2022 Sebesta, Xiong, Guarnieri and Yu.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-2700-81941


  • algae
  • biocontainment
  • cyanobacteria
  • lethal genes
  • synthetic auxotrophy


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