Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Pamela J. Weathers, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Joseph B. Duffy, Department Head

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Luis Vidali, Advisor




With the current state of climate change and world peak oil on the horizon, it is important to focus our research efforts on alternative sources of energy. Ethanol obtained from the digestion of biomass (bioethanol) and oil harvesting from algae (biodiesel) are two promising fields of study for transportation fuel production. However, in their current state of development, neither option is capable of reasonably replacing the transportation fuel demand for this country. The land demand needed is too large for either process to become a viable option, albeit the land demand for biodiesel is considerably smaller than that of bioethanol. Therefore, when moving forward with alternative transportation fuel, harvesting oil from algae is a more promising option. Therefore, I investigated oil producing green algae to better understand algal growth, the algal cytoskeleton, and tried to establish a methodology to genetically manipulate algae. I developed a microgrowth assay in order to investigate algal growth and proliferation, while at the same time using considerably less material and space. This assay can directly monitor algal growth in response to media contents, and overcomes many of the limitations of existing microassays due to its use of solid media agar and fluorescent imaging. I also investigated algal genetic manipulation with the intention of creating a standard operating procedure, which could lead to further investigation of how to increase lipid output and increase lipid harvesting cycles through studying lipid production and cell division. Electroporation and PEG mediated transformation were the two chief methods investigated for nuclear transformation. Lastly, I performed an algal kinesin phylogenetic study to characterize the currently available algal kinesin superfamily, providing insight to proteins that are important for cell division as well as other functions within this superfamily. Kinesins 5, Kinesin 7s Class II and Class V, and Kinesin 14 Class I were identified to be important for algal cell division, while Kinesin 8, 12, 11, and some orphan kinesins will require further investigation due to their unknown plant function. Overall, this research provides a foundation for future algal studies required for optimal oil production necessary for a more sustainable future.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Biology & Biotechnology

Project Type


Date Accepted





microalgae, biodiesel, toxicity assay, microgrowth assay, growth assay, protoplasting, protoplast, electroporation, transformation, kinesin, cytoskeleton, oil producing algae