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Microalgae as bioreactors for bioplastic production

Franziska Hempel1, Andrew S Bozarth2, Nicole Lindenkamp4, Andreas Klingl1, Stefan Zauner2, Uwe Linne3, Alexander Steinbüchel4 and Uwe G Maier12*

Author Affiliations

1 LOEWE Research Centre for Synthetic Microbiology (SYNMIKRO), Hans-Meerwein-Strasse, 35032 Marburg, Germany

2 Cell Biology, Department of Biology, Philipps-University of Marburg, Karl-von-Frisch-Strasse 8, 35032 Marburg, Germany

3 Biochemistry, Department of Chemistry, Philipps-University of Marburg, Hans-Meerwein-Strasse, 35032 Marburg, Germany

4 Institut für Molekulare Mikrobiologie und Biotechnologie, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Corrensstrasse 3, 48149 Münster, Germany

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Microbial Cell Factories 2011, 10:81  doi:10.1186/1475-2859-10-81

Published: 17 October 2011



Poly-3-hydroxybutyrate (PHB) is a polyester with thermoplastic properties that is naturally occurring and produced by such bacteria as Ralstonia eutropha H16 and Bacillus megaterium. In contrast to currently utilized plastics and most synthetic polymers, PHB is biodegradable, and its production is not dependent on fossil resources making this bioplastic interesting for various industrial applications.


In this study, we report on introducing the bacterial PHB pathway of R. eutropha H16 into the diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum, thereby demonstrating for the first time that PHB production is feasible in a microalgal system. Expression of the bacterial enzymes was sufficient to result in PHB levels of up to 10.6% of algal dry weight. The bioplastic accumulated in granule-like structures in the cytosol of the cells, as shown by light and electron microscopy.


Our studies demonstrate the great potential of microalgae like the diatom P. tricornutum to serve as solar-powered expression factories and reveal great advantages compared to plant based production systems.