priyankaL
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comparing the oil-producing abilities of algae from different environments

Postby priyankaL » Fri Dec 11, 2020 7:29 pm

Hi there, I was thinking of doing a project where I would determine which location (freshwater or saltwater) algae is the most efficient for biofuel production (which produces the most oil per gram of algae). However I was wondering a few things:
1. what type of algae would be best for this experiment?
2. if I live in a place that is cold in the winter, would I still be able to find algae like this?
3. if I manage to find it, how would I know exactly what type of algae it is?
4. if I would not be able to find any in my are, where could I order them online? (exact links if possible)
Thank you!

priyankaL
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Re: comparing the oil-producing abilities of algae from different environments

Postby priyankaL » Fri Dec 11, 2020 8:05 pm

Also if I were to buy algae from a science supply website, could I grow some of the algae in a saltwater environment and some of it in a freshwater environment in my house? Would this be similar to extracting algae from freshwater and saltwater lakes, ponds, rivers etc.?
Thanks!

17eugenekim
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Re: comparing the oil-producing abilities of algae from different environments

Postby 17eugenekim » Sat Dec 12, 2020 11:45 am

Hi there,

Sounds like a fascinating project idea you have!

The first thing I want to bring your attention to is safety. You're probably aware, but make sure you know what you're getting into when working with biological agents (e.g. algae). I believe ISEF and ISEF-affiliated science fairs have specific paperwork that should look something like this: https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science- ... egulations They take biosafety very seriously, and of course you should as well. I imagine you are working from home (as you indicated in a previous post), so there are already significant limitations on what you can work with.

My assumption is that your project should fall under Exempt Studies type 1a) under the ISEF PHBA rules ("Studies involving protists and archaea"), and therefore permissible as long as you work with non-harmful algae. However I really should note that I am not ANY sort of authority on this, so you should do your own reading and check with the proper people to make sure you are not violating any regulations.

With that in mind, acquiring algae samples from the environment is probably a total no-go. Identifying algae from the environment is probably not something you'd be able to do, anyway. If you pursue this project, you'll have to purchase material from somewhere (e.g. I found this, which uses Nannochloropsis: https://algaeresearchsupply.com/product ... e-projects. Obviously I cannot vouch for the quality of any online retailer you choose to use.). Growing them in artificial saltwater/freshwater environments in the house is also your most likely option, though you should take care to note what exactly those environments are. (e.g. what salts/minerals added, how much by volume, any special techniques to prepare the waters, etc...and that's in addition to anything else you might want to track, like temperature or oxygen levels, if suitable). You'll have to do some research on the actual waters you're attempting to simulate, as well as what waters the algae you're using will tolerate.

I hope that addresses your concerns. Let us know how we can help further!

17eugenekim
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Re: comparing the oil-producing abilities of algae from different environments

Postby 17eugenekim » Sat Dec 12, 2020 11:49 am

I should also point out that we have a few compiled project guides on this site, some of which may be applicable to you in helping you find materials and/or kits to work with: https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science- ... ts?s=algae. There's not a huge selection, but hopefully it will help serve as a jumping-off point in your search.

Best of luck!

priyankaL
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Re: comparing the oil-producing abilities of algae from different environments

Postby priyankaL » Sun Dec 13, 2020 1:25 pm

Thank you so much for the response, it was very helpful!
I have decided to use Merismopedia (a genus of Cyanobacteria algae) because of its adaptability to both freshwater and saltwater environments. I found a Merismopedia culture on Carolina biological here https://www.carolina.com/cyanobacteria/ ... rismopedia
I had a couple of more questions on this:
1. I am having trouble coming up with ideas for a name so could you tell me if any of these sound fine:
a. Comparing the Oil Production Abilities (or efficiency) of Cyanobacteria Algae when Cultured in Different Water Environments
b. Investigating the Effects of Different Aquatic Environments on the Extraction of Oil from Cyanobacteria Algae
2. I was thinking of growing my algae in plastic bottles and fertilizing them using a soil-water medium, would this be a good idea (the plastic bottles part)? How much soil-water should I use for each ml of algae?
3. How many trials should I run, is 3 enough? Can I run all trials at the same time?
4. After the oil is ready to be extracted from the algae, how should I extract the oil? I researched multiple options that I could do at home and I am thinking of using a blender because I don't have a oil press, would this be fine? (I read that the oil will rise above the algae because it is less dense, then I can extract the oil from there)
5. When I place the algae cultures in their growing environments (plastic bottles) would using a pipette help with making sure that they are equally distributed?
6. How should I measure the oil (which units should I use)?
Again, thank you for replying it helps a lot.

17eugenekim
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Re: comparing the oil-producing abilities of algae from different environments

Postby 17eugenekim » Sun Dec 13, 2020 5:24 pm

First of all, I apologize for the confusion that you're about to run into...

The first thing I think we need to clarify, for both the sake of paperwork and general knowledge, is that the phrase "cyanobacteria algae" is technically self-contradictory. It's not necessarily "wrong" but I'd avoid it. Cyanobacteria are prokaryotes & bacteria, while algae generally refers to eukaryotes. The confusion comes from the fact that cyanobacteria are often colloquially called "blue-green algae," but are not actually eukaryotes. There's even more confusion because many algae species use cyanobacteria as endosymbiotes.

(I first encountered this headache when I briefly worked in a lab that studied "algal blooms"...fun fact, that phrase can refer to either kind. Usually cyanobacteria, but not always.)

All this to say: cyanobacteria are prokaryotic, algae are eukaryotic. The reason why this distinction is important for you is because I'm pretty sure that under the exemption ruling I cited earlier, protists (i.e. eukaryotes) are allowed for home labs, while bacteria are not.

I want to emphasize again that you should reach out to the appropriate officials to confirm this, because I do not represent any science fair organization so I can't speak for their rules. I know this seems tedious, but I'd hate for you to embark on a project and end up finding yourself excluded from the science fair.

I hope all that was helpful (and I hope I didn't get anything wrong myself...). I recommend you research & clarify this for yourself, but of course don't hesitate to ask us further.

Two other things:
- I think both kinds can produce oil, but algae do it much better, and cyanobacteria making oil is a more recent discovery. I'm not even sure if you'd get detectable levels of oil from cyanobacteria with a home experiment.
- Merismopedia is a cyanobacteria.



With that in mind, assuming you can run your experiments:
1) Both sound fine - the important thing is that someone should be able to read only your title and understand what research question you pursued. I think there's many ways to say the same thing and you've got two of them.

2) I don't know much about soil-water media, but if your research suggests it, it should be fine. I can't really speak for specifics. Note that you need to either A) have enough nutrients for the full growing period, or B) periodically refill more media for the algae to continue growing, if you're planning on culturing for more than a few days. Plastic is also no issue - it's not going to degrade any time soon (unfortunately for the planet), and minuscule leaching shouldn't affect your studies.

3) As many trials as you think will be enough - consider to yourself why having multiple trials is good (specifically in this context). Doing them at the same time is fine. Just make sure you have enough materials (with a little left extra just in case). You may need to do a few preliminary trials to see if your methods work, so keep that in mind as well.

4) This is the big question in your methods. You'll have to dig into research for more details. My intuition says a blender will work, but I make no promises. Realize (if you haven't already) that the oil is going to be inside algal cell membranes, which means to get any oil you have to lyse them open. I imagine a blender (if it works) will be less effective than a press. Whatever you use, remember that you won't get anywhere near 100% efficacy. i.e. oil produced by algae =/= oil you collected. This might be important to keep in mind later when you do analysis and/or present conclusions.
Also, your extraction method should pull the oil out of the cell/water/medium mixture somehow, so you'll need a way for that.

5) No - they should start growing just fine. There's not many places to hide in a plastic bottle. Just give the bottles a shake/swirl regularly to aerate them & stir up any pockets - this is how I've seen bacterial cultures maintained in labs. Often they're put on dedicated shaker machines that swirl them 24/7 but that's not necessary. A few shakes a day will do.

6) I would imagine volume - do you have anything that measures down to the 0.1mL?



I hope that was helpful. Remember to do your research before diving into any new ideas.

priyankaL
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Re: comparing the oil-producing abilities of algae from different environments

Postby priyankaL » Mon Dec 14, 2020 1:43 pm

Thank you for clarifying that.
I have decided to switch to Chlamydomonas algae, which is a genus of Chlorophyta - https://www.carolina.com/algae/chlamydo ... /152030.pr
Because it is a protist, it is allowed for use at home, as long as I fill out a risk assessment form.
Would Chlamydomonas algae work for this purpose? Can it still be grown in a plastic water bottle? Would 30ml of the culture be enough for 3 trials of the experiment? How much should I use in each of the environments?

17eugenekim
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Re: comparing the oil-producing abilities of algae from different environments

Postby 17eugenekim » Tue Dec 15, 2020 4:52 pm

Yes, that should work. I don't know about oil production rates but hopefully that genus can produce enough. All of the other experimental considerations should still apply.

I assume 30mL will be plenty, I don't know what the concentration is though so 30mL has no real meaning (i.e. is that 30mL mostly water or mostly algae). The nice thing about microbiology, though, is that as long as you have media you can grow more of them. Just be aware of how much you have, and try not to kill them. If you want to have a reserve, I wonder if it would be a good idea to have a back-up stock growing outside of any experimental groups.

The starting inoculating algae in each sample should be the same across groups if you want to keep things consistent. You can judge this by using volume of starting culture.


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