Cell factories

The laboratory has been interested for some years in the utilization of microalgae as an alternative production system for recombinant proteins.

Currently, bacterial and eukaryotic systems (yeasts, mammals and plants) are the most widely used heterologous protein expression systems. Each system has advantages and disadvantages relating to factors such as cost, GMO confinement, complexity of producing the molecules, etc...

Although transgenic microalgal technology is still a relatively recent phenomenon, microalgae are increasingly being recognized as potential ‘cell factories’.

Over and above their diversity and originality, microalgae have numerous advantages over other expression systems such as high growth rate, low production cost, and the ability to integrate the post-transcriptional and post-translational modifications essential to the functionality of most recombinant proteins in a therapeutic context.

Conversely, from an economic point of view, there are certain technological hurdles for this type of production system that will have to be overcome, such as the capacity of microalgae for genetic transformation, and the low production yields of recombinant protein.

In the light of this, two additional approaches have been implemented:

  • An action plan to:
    • Identify the DNA sequences (promoters, terminators, etc…) required to develop molecular tools for genetic transformation,
    • define and optimize genetic transformation parameters for microalgae. The first objective here is to obtain genetic tools (GFP chimera, RNAi, etc…) suited to analyzing the molecular mechanisms specific to metabolic pathways of interest.
  • A prospecting plan to identify and isolate within the whole spectrum of microalgal diversity, candidate species exhibiting original features of potential interest for the production of recombinant proteins.

This cell factory program led in 2008 to the creation of the biotechnology company Algenics (spin-out of Ifremer), the first of its kind in Europe, specializing in the production of recombinant proteins in microalgae. This program has also been supported (2006-2009) in the framework of a collaborative venture between the Brittany Region, CRITT Santé-Bretagne, Javenech enterprise and the PBA laboratory.