Cyanobacteria and eukaryotic microalgae are phototrophic microorganisms capable of producing organic compounds using solar energy. Owing to their fast growth, low cost cultivation, and the diversity of high-value chemical substances produced, they are considered an attractive target to be exploited by the biotechnology industry. While genetic modulation of these organisms has been extensively proved in the laboratory, present-day microalgal industry uses mainly non-transgenic strains. Although some unicellular cyanobacteria can be successfully engineered, many commercial bioproducts are synthesized preferably by eukaryotic microalgae or filamentous cyanobacteria to take advantage of their better-suited natural physiological characteristics. The successful genetic engineering of these microorganisms is not limited to the understanding of the gene expression machinery (e.g., promoters, codon usage, ribosome binding sites), but it must also include other subjects, such as defense mechanisms against the intrusion of foreign DNA. This chapter reviews current strategies in microalgae biotechnology and analyzes the most frequent problems we faced to genetically manipulate these microorganisms, including their transformation and selection methodologies. In summary, we attempt to provide a comprehensive review of the relevant information and tools required for optimal engineering of a photosynthetic microorganism employed in sustainable biotechnology applications.
Part of the book: Algae