New Mexico Consortium Researchers Conduct Field Trials of Algal Strains


Algae field trial/Photo by Alina Corcoran


Algae strains/Photo by Anthony Granite 


Co- Principal Investigators Alina Corcoran of the New Mexico Consortium (NMC) and Shawn Starkenburg of Los Alamos National Laboratory, along with industrial partners, are starting an exciting four-year project built upon outdoor algal cultivation. The project is entitled Optimizing Selection Pressures and Pest Management to Maximize Algal Biomass Yield (OSPREY).

In the biofuel industry scientists often create algal strains with high productivity in the lab, only to find these strains fail when cultured in the field. Conversely, field strains can be robust, but may lack desired qualities such as high lipid content.

The goal of OSPREY is to balance the selection pressures that strains experience in the lab with those they experience in the field – ultimately to make strains that are both productive and resilient to environmental stressors.

The project will start with a field-adapted strain from an industrial partner Qualitas Health. This strain will be distributed to research partners in California, Hawaii, and New Mexico where it will be allowed to naturally develop robustness in different environments. Researchers at each location will grow the same strain for four years  to study how it changes. Does it evolve to be more resilient to desert environments or coastal environments, and can the researchers capture its qualities and use them to create more productive strains?

Researchers will also use non-GM laboratory approaches at New Mexico State UniversityLos Alamos National Laboratory, and the University of California San Diego to improve the baseline field strains.

This research is unique because it relies on natural, outdoor selection pressures to drive fitness in the algal strains that have already been identified as standards in the industry.

PIs at the New Mexico Consortium and Los Alamos National Laboratory will lead the project. Industrial partners include Qualitas HealthCyanotech Corporation, and Phase Genomics. Academic partners include Colorado State UniversityNew Mexico State University, and the University of California San Diego.

This project is funded by the Department of Energy.