Algae study recognized for high impact among UF/IFAS research
The UF/IFAS Research Dean’s Office is recognizing former undergraduate student Rebecca O’Connell and Soil and Water Sciences research professor Dr. Ann Wilkie for their research paper. The article they co-authored, “Comparing Harvest Productivity of the Filamentous Alga Oedogonium with Microalgae,” was selected as a 2019 high impact paper. Their work is one of eight selected from among more than 1,500 articles published by IFAS researchers in 2019. The recognition celebrates the very significant and important impact UF/IFAS research is having on advancing science and addressing important societal needs.
“This is a great honor for Ann and Rebecca,” said Dr. Matt Whiles, chair of the Soil and Water Sciences Department. “It also showcases the variety of research we do as a department that stretches across all ecosystems. I am particularly excited about this paper because the primary author is one of our undergraduate students.”
The research examines the opportunities filamentous algae present as a “fixer” for the environment and how they can be a resource in many other ways.
“Photosynthetic algae have exceptional potential for remediating waste resources and transforming solar energy into vital carbon-based resources, including foods, fibers, feeds, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, and biofuels,” said O’Connell, who earned a B.S. in environmental science from the UF/IFAS School of Natural Resources and Environment in May 2019.
Algal cultivation is not restricted to arable land or potable water. That allows creative use of marginal lands, saline aquifers, wastewaters, and oceans for bioresource production. Using waste resources decreases environmental burdens and eliminates the need for adding synthetic nutrients to produce algae.
“The growth rate of algae greatly exceeds that of other photosynthetic organisms,” O’Connell added. “Cultivation of algae also has significant potential to capture CO2 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Filamentous algae show promise as an optimal species for cultivation due to the relative ease of harvesting their long thin filaments compared to the smaller cells of microalgae. This research project compared the harvesting productivity of the filamentous alga Oedogonium with two established microalgae cultures. The research demonstrates that Oedogonium is efficient at carbon capture and biomass production due to its high productivity rates relative to microalgae.
Wilkie says their paper has high impact not only because of the scholarly quality of the research but because the paper and the research were the result of an undergraduate research experience. “Supervised research benefits undergraduate students by helping them learn how scientists think, discovering how to overcome challenges, and learning about careers in science,” Wilkie added.
“During this research, Rebecca learned new lab skills in sampling and microscopy, successfully performed a series of experiments, compiled and analyzed the data, wrote an honors thesis, presented posters at research symposia, and published this quality article,” explained Wilkie.
The UF Journal of Undergraduate Research published the article. You can find the full article here: https://journals.flvc.org/UFJUR/article/view/106221/103073. The research was conducted as part of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences’ University Scholars Program (USP) and the experiential learning course SWS 4911: Supervised Research in Soil and Water Sciences. The studies took place at Wilkie’s UF/IFAS Bioenergy and Sustainable Technology Laboratory.