Microalgae are an exceptional source of numerous nutraceutical compounds used in the agri-food industry and aquaculture. Genetic manipulation is key to improving the productivity of these compounds and making them competitive against those obtained from other natural sources or artificially synthesized. In recent years, renewed interest in microalgae has led to the genetic transformation of new species, but most research still focuses on a few strains, and low efficiency or instability of transgenes are still common issues. The “Genetic Engineering of Photosynthetic Organisms Unit” aims to overcome the main barriers to efficient and stable gene expression in microalgae and apply the tools obtained to improve the productivity of various commercially relevant compounds. Our unit uses techniques for studying expression levels through RT-PCR and protein immunoassays to investigate different metabolic pathways and the response to abiotic stress in microalgae. It also studies the production of halotolerant enzymes and the identification of bioactive substances. Additionally, it employs classical breeding techniques and cutting-edge techniques such as RNAi silencing or genome editing using CRISPR-nucleases associated sgRNA for the improvement of these pathways through genetic engineering.

The Photosynthetic Organisms Genetic Manipulation Unit has coordinated several research projects funded by the Ministry of Education and Science (MEC) and the Andalusian Government (JA) on improving the nutritional characteristics of microalgae through genetic manipulation. It has also led a project funded by the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (MINENCO) on the use of microalgae as a vehicle for oral vaccines in aquaculture and an INTERREG project titled ALGRED+ ( involving 9 Spanish and Portuguese entities. Currently, it leads an Excellence project of the Andalusian Government for the development of alternative tools to combat pathogens in aquaculture, a FEDER project for the production of enzymes and bioactive compounds from archaea isolated in the Huelva estuary, and a project funded by the Ministry for the production of colorless bio-accessible carotenoids in microalgae.

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