Carolyn Lee-Parsons, associate professor of chemical engineering, chemistry, and chemical biology
Lee-Parsons learned a lot in her quest to increase production of pharmaceutical compounds in plant cells—knowledge she is now using to achieve a potential breakthrough in renewable energy production.
She is applying her arsenal of biochemical and genetic engineering tools to microalgae cells, which naturally produce a biodiesel precursor called triacylglycerol.
Microalgae cells use triacylglycerol molecules to store energy, but it takes several weeks to accumulate levels high enough for practical use.
If we can uncover the nuances of the machinery in microalgae cells, says Lee-Parsons, then we should be able to determine how to speed up triacylglycerol production and “milk” microalgae of triacylglycerol without destroying the cells.
And that would be significant, says Lee-Parsons. Because biodiesel can store more than 10 times the energy of its main competitor among plant-based energy sources, ethanol, her research could make biodiesel a vital source of alternative fuel.