Sustainable and renewable alternatives to fossil fuel derived energy have become increasingly important as the world’s population continues to grow. Liquid biofuels produced from microalgae biomass show the most promise because these algae are exceptional at producing and accumulating lipids, fuel molecule precursors. In the algal biofuel industry, one major setback is the loss of algal crops due to pest infestations. Algae may die within a matter of days after a pest gets into an outdoor pond, and current preventative measures are not economically feasible long term.
It has long been known that bacteria and microalgae benefit from each other through nutrient exchange, however bacteria also have the potential to chemically protect microalgae from a wide array of threats (i.e., grazers, pathogens, parasites, etc.). While it is difficult to determine the source of a protective chemical agent isolated from a complex bacterial community, working with bacterial isolates creates a simpler system for understanding chemical interactions between microalgal crops, their pests, and protective bacteria. We aim to identify natural products produced by marine bacteria that can be leveraged as natural pesticides in microalgae-bacteria co-cultures. The methods developed for identifying protective molecules in our system can then be used to target additional pests that threaten commercially valuable microalgal species.