End Result

Jan. 1, 2009

Intercepting photosynthesis to produce biofuel

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have found a method to create biofuel using unicellular microalgae. A paper in a special energy issue of Optics Express explains how the researchers genetically modify the organisms to minimize the chlorophyll molecules needed to harvest light without compromising the photosynthesis process. With this modification, instead of making more sugar molecules, the microalgae could produce hydrogen or hydrocarbons.

The researchers have identified genetic instructions in the algae genome responsible for deploying approximately 600 chlorophyll molecules in the cell’s light-gathering antennae. They believe that the algae can get along with as few as 130 molecules. Basically, the scientists want to divert the normal function of photosynthesis from generating biomass to making biofuel products.

The algae’s chlorophyll antennae help the organisms compete for sunlight absorption and survive in the wild, where sunlight is often limited, says Tasios Melis, coauthor of the paper. Melis uses the phrase “cellular optics” to describe the effort to maximize the efficiency of the solar-to-product conversion process. Microalgae are perhaps ten times more efficient in photosynthesis than other plants discussed as possible biofuel stocks.

Chlorophyll fluorescence indicates plants’ drought tolerance

Increasing demands of industrial, municipal, and agricultural consumption on dwindling water supplies have led botanists to increasingly cultivate plants with low water requirements. Professor Barry Pogson and a team of other researchers from the Australian National University that investigated whether chlorophyll fluorescence could be used to assess plant water status during such studies. “We found that plants’ viability during increasing water deficit could be measured and quantified by measuring changes to the maximum efficiency of photosystem II (Fv/Fm), and that this was easily measurable by chlorophyll fluorometry,” he said.

Other methods of assessing plants’ performance under water deficit have serious drawbacks. Methods that involve detaching parts of the plant are destructive and survival studies rely on qualitative observation of physical symptoms of water deficit stress such as turgor loss, chlorosis, and other qualities that can vary greatly between specimens and are also sensitive to experimental conditions. Chlorophyll fluorescence is non-invasive and minimal technical expertise and a basic understanding of fluorometry. Pogson said “By correlating the decline in the Fv/Fm parameter to loss of viability, our procedure allows the monitoring of survival under water-deficit conditions, namely defining a threshold of 33% of well-watered Fv/Fm values.”

This procedure may complement existing methods of evaluating drought performance while also increasing the number of tools available for assessment of other plant stresses.

Skin-care products support cosmetic procedures

Global medical aesthetics company Allergan and cosmetics maker Clinique have launched a skin-care line to help improve the skin’s receptivity to the benefits of laser skin resurfacing such as intense pulsed light (IPL) or fractionated laser treatments, among other procedures. “Products in the Clinique Medical line leverage innovative technologies formulated to specifically address the explicit needs of patients’ skin when undergoing some of the most popular in-office procedures so they can have an optimal experience prior to and post-treatment,” the partners say of the line, named one of Allure magazine’s 2008 “Beauty Breakthroughs.” The formulations include patent-pending ingredients.

In two separate double-blind controlled studies consisting of 12 weeks of product use in two treatment cycles, Clinique Medical was shown to optimize the outcome of nonsurgical cosmetic procedures. The first study examined the use of Clinique Medical in conjunction with an IPL treatment (n = 29), and the second study with a 30% TCA chemical peel (n = 28). All participants in the studies were female between the ages of 35 to 65 and had never undergone the procedures.

At 12 weeks post-treatment in both studies, Clinique Medical was shown to optimize the benefits of the procedures, significantly improving many of the hallmark signs of aging, including the appearance of lines and wrinkles, age spots, skin radiance, skin firmness, and skin tone, the companies report.

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