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Genome-Wide Seaweed Studies

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM)

Genome-Wide Association Studies for Breeding M. Pyrifera

Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$2,820,128
Location: 
Milwaukee, WI
Project Term: 
03/15/2018 to 03/14/2021
Project Status: 
ACTIVE
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 

Marine macroalgae, also referred to as seaweeds or kelp, are a group of exceptionally diverse aquatic plants. Macroalgae can be found along nearly all coastlines around the globe and in some cases also in the open ocean. They have traditionally been used for food and feed, as well as fertilizer. In 2016, the world produced approximately 26 million wet metric tons of seaweed, primarily through highly labor-intensive farming techniques. While macroalgae production has increased six-fold over the past quarter-century, the current state of macroalgae "mariculture" is not capable of achieving the scale, efficiency and production costs necessary to support a seaweed-to-fuels industry. Dramatically increasing productivity will require significant advancements in the domestication of macroalgae and new farming technologies. To accelerate the development of critical tools and technologies, the MARINER program is supporting projects in five technical areas: 1) Integrated Cultivation & Harvest System Design, 2) Critical Enabling Components, 3) Computational Modeling, 4) Monitoring Tools, and 5) Breeding & Genomic Tools.

Project Innovation + Advantages: 

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) will lead a MARINER Category 5 project to develop a breeding program and enable the development of macroalgae varieties that consistently produce high yields under farmed conditions. Controlled genetic improvements through crop breeding require establishing a bank of genetically homogeneous lines that are examined for markers and traits important for domestication and production. The researchers will sample giant sea kelp from the Southern California Bight, an area of high genetic diversity. The team will assess phenotypic performance of these samples at a real-world farm location at Catalina Island, which has oceanographic conditions that resemble the warm, offshore waters suitable for macroalgae farming. Traits such as survival, growth rate, temperature tolerance and photosynthetic efficiency will be measured at different stages. The team will establish genomic resources for giant kelp, and utilize them in conjunction with the field performance observed to predict the best performing varieties from approximately 50,000 possible crosses. If successful, these germplasm lines will constitute a "seed stock" similar to that established for agricultural crops that can be used by breeders to stage model-based, efficient, cost-effective, and environmentally sound targeted genome-based selection.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, MARINER projects strive to develop the tools needed to allow the United States to become a world leader in marine biomass production for multiple important applications, including the production of biofuels.

Security: 

Production of biofuels from domestically produced marine biomass could lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil, bolstering energy security.

Environment: 

Growing large amounts of macroalgae would not compete with land-based food crops, requires no fresh water and can be grown without the addition of energy-intensive, synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Large-scale macroalgae cultivation may help reduce the negative effects of nutrient overload and ocean acidification in many coastal ocean regions.

Economy: 

A domestic macroalgae industry would not only create a valuable new source of domestic energy, but also create significant new economic and employment opportunities in many waterfront communities along the U.S. coasts from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska, and the Pacific Islands.

Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Marc von Keitz
Project Contact: 
Dr. Filipe Alberto
Partners
University of Southern California
University of California, Santa Barbara
Release Date: 
9/19/2017