Making inexpensive insulin using microalgae

[USA] A team of researcher led by Antonio Lamb of University of California is conducting a study of the feasibility of using plant cells as protein factories. The team intended to raise fund to run a pilot study which aim to produce insulin using microalgae, Subsequently, the development of such technology allows the production of cheap edible vaccines for diseases in aquaculture, and eventually for human diseases such as cholera.

Making Inexpensive Insulin Using Microalgae from Experiment on Vimeo.

Here is the pledge:

I was inspired to pursue this project when I made contact with two other individuals, Simon Porphy, a Fermentation Scientist with a Master’s Degree in Bioprocess Engineering, and Jeffrey Boore, a UC Berkeley genomics professor and former panel adviser for the National Science Foundation. They informed me of the untapped potential of microalgae and their intent to harness it, and so we all decided to collaborate. Numerous studies have shown that vaccine production in algae is on the brink of becoming an established technology [1][2][3]. I want to provide public exposure for this new development and demonstrate that with the right research, it will be ready for industry. I want to use microalgae to produce therapeutic proteins and bring down their cost. I seek your help to do so.

Transformed E. coli harboring our custom algal pASapI vectors. Left: pAsapI-GFP, right: pASapI (negative control)
Transformed E. coli harboring our custom algal pASapI vectors. Left: pAsapI-GFP, right: pASapI (negative control)

What is the significance of this project?

According to the World Health Organization and the American Diabetes Association, cholera and diabetes are treatable diseases that take the lives of approximately 376,000 people worldwide each year [1][2]. Imagine the number of lives that could be saved by using plants to develop cheap edible vaccines, or using algae to grow more affordable synthetic insulin for diabetics in disadvantaged countries. The benefits to developing nations would be tremendous. I have assembled a highly qualified team of scientists to help me, and they have many years of research and industry experience with microalgae. With your help, we can use our talents to try and make a positive contribution to society. It is also a great opportunity to show how powerful crowd-sourced scientific research can be.

What are the goals of the project?

I want to use this pilot study to demonstrate that protein production in algae can be more economically viable than traditional methods using bacterial or mammalian cells. I have designed a new gene to produce synthetic insulin in algae which does not rely on photosynthesis. It incorporates the strength of endogenous and foreign viral regulatory elements to drive gene expression, and I want to begin characterizing it in vivo as soon as possible. Additional details of the experimental design (for those familiar with molecular biology) will be available. Essentially, I will be inserting a gene encoding synthetic proinsulin into the chloroplasts of microalgae, where it should accumulate to high concentrations without killing the cell. A similar experiment showed promising results.

To learn more about this project, please visit:


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