July 2, 2018
Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are using neutrons to understand why certain hydrocarbons produced by blue-green algae are important to their biology, so new strains can be engineered to sustainably produce biofuels. Neutron scattering makes it possible to non-destructively see inside living algae at real world temperatures and in real time. “No one has used neutron scattering to test the hypothesized role hydrocarbons in modulating membrane structure in algae,” said Cory Knoot of the Washington University in St. Louis. “Understanding why alkanes are important to cyanobacterial health could make it easier to engineer new strains of the algae that can sustainably produce alkanes as biofuels.” Knoot used the lab’s Biological Small-Angle Neutron Scattering, or Bio-SANS, instrument, which is designed and optimized to analyze the structure, function and dynamics of complex biological systems.