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NTT identifies genes involved in algae CO2 absorption and makes significant improvements: Aims for use in green food projects


NTT announced that it has established a method for selecting the genes in algae involved in absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) and has succeeded in identifying two genes that are expected to cause a revolutionary increase in CO2 absorption through genome editing technology. The company intends to edit the genome of the identified genes to evaluate CO2 uptake, as well as to identify genes related to other useful traits. NTT also envisages that the results will be used in the future in the green food projects being conceived by NTT, Regional Fish Institute, Ltd., and other partners, that will contribute to reducing the environmental impact of humankind and solving food shortages, as set out in the projects.

NTT, in collaboration with Kyoto‐based Regional Fish, has been working since 2021 on a demonstration of carbon dioxide conversion technology that applies genome editing technology to the food chain of algae and seafood to reduce the amount of CO2 dissolved in the ocean. This is an attempt to reduce CO2 by using genome editing technology to improve both the ability of algae to absorb CO2 (mainly bicarbonate ions) dissolved in seawater and the growth rate of fish and shellfish that feed on algae, and NTT has been working to establish genome editing technology to improve the CO2 absorption of algae.

Previous research on algae has focused on genome editing, mainly on growth rates and oil and fat production capacity, with the aim of using algae as food and fuel. In contrast, to improve CO2 absorption by genome editing, the aim of the demonstration experiment being promoted by NTT, it was necessary to discover target genes that could be expected to change useful traits, as the genes involved in absorption were not known. In addition to greater CO2 uptake, other useful traits required in algae include increased oil and fat production capacity as a biomass fuel and increased growth rates. By quantitatively assessing which gene‐edited mutants show greater trait change for these traits, candidate genes to target for genome editing can be selected.

In their study, NTT established a method for selecting genes related to traits possessed by algae and evaluated the ones that can be expected to increase CO2 absorption by applying genome editing technology. As a result, they created gene‐edited strains for 12 types of target candidate genes and succeeded in selecting two types that showed a marked increase in growth rate compared to the parent strain that they anticipate will dramatically increase CO2 uptake. NTT will now conduct genome editing on the identified genes to evaluate CO2 uptake and to identify genes related to other useful traits.

Additionally, since organisms including algae have inherited genes necessary to maintain life or metabolism during the process of evolution, genes involved in absorbing CO2 may be applicable to plants and other photosynthetic organisms. Therefore, NTT will convert the relationship between genes and trait changes in various organisms into numerical data and build a model that predicts trait changes from patterns and rules discovered by machine learning. Furthermore, they envisage that the results of this project will be used in their green food business concept.

At NTT's third quarter financial results conference for FY2022 held on 9 February, the company's President and CEO Akira Shimada also revealed that the company will establish a joint venture in the first half of FY2023 with Regional Fish, which has been conducting demonstration experiments, on green food businesses aimed at solving future food shortages and global environmental problems. The business concept aims to commercialize green food products by leveraging the strengths of both companies, including NTT's technologies for selecting superior varieties of algae, cultivation and breeding, and information and communication technologies such as AI and IoT, along with Regional Fish's technologies for breeding seafood and know‐how in land‐based aquaculture. The two companies have signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a joint venture company for the production and sale of fish and shellfish. A planning company will soon be established to carry out preliminary studies and research for the launch of the joint venture.

This article has been translated by JST with permission from The Science News Ltd. ( Unauthorized reproduction of the article and photographs is prohibited.

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