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CSIRO

A collaboration between Craig Venter's Synthetic Genomics and ExxonMobil has yielded "a breakthrough" in efforts to create biofuels from algae. Researchers report they have engineered a strain of algae that can produce twice as much fat — essentially oil — but can still grow at its normal rate.

Why it matters: For decades, scientists have tried to produce oil from fast-growing algae to replace or supplement fossil fuels. One challenge that this study appears to have overcome using genetic engineering has been that algae require a lot of nutrients to grow quickly but produce more fat when they are starved of the same nutrients. That tradeoff limits how much biofuel can be made overall.

What they did: Researchers knew that when algae has limited access to nitrogen, it produces more fatty lipids so they looked in the algae species Nannochloropsis gaditana for genes that are inhibited when there is less nitrogen and that also regulate the production of lipids. It took them almost a decade, but they found one and altered it using CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing, ultimately creating a strain that produced at least 40% oil content compared to 20% in natural algae.

Next steps: The strain would have to be successfully grown outside the lab (in sunlight and the elements) in industrial-scale amounts before it could be commercialized. Those technical needs along with regulatory hurdles and the relatively low price of gasoline currently, which isn't incentivizing a switch to biofuels, mean it could be a while before we see algae-produced oil on the market.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Capitol review panel recommends more police, mobile fencing

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

A panel appointed by Congress to review security measures at the Capitol is recommending several changes, including mobile fencing and a bigger Capitol police force, to safeguard the area after a riotous mob breached the building on Jan. 6.

Why it matters: Law enforcement officials have warned there could be new plots to attack the area and target lawmakers, including during a speech President Biden is expected to give to a joint session of Congress.

CDC says fully vaccinated people can take fewer precautions

Photo: Filip Filipovic/Getty Images

People who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can take fewer precautions in certain situations, including socializing indoors without masks when in the company of low-risk or other vaccinated individuals, according to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Monday.

Why it matters: Per the report, there's early evidence that suggests vaccinated people are less likely to have asymptomatic infection and are potentially less likely to transmit the virus to other people. At the time of its publication, the CDC said the guidance would apply to about 10% of Americans.