Diatom microalgae have great industrial potential as next-generation sources of biomaterials and biofuels. Effective scale-up of their production can be pursued by enhancing the efficiency of their photosynthetic process in a way that increases the solar-to-biomass conversion yield. A proof-of-concept demonstration is given of the possibility of enhancing the light absorption of algae and of increasing their efficiency in photosynthesis by in vivo incorporation of an organic dye which acts as an antenna and enhances cells' growth and biomass production without resorting to genetic modification. A molecular dye (Cy5) is incorporated in Thalassiosira weissflogii diatom cells by simply adding it to the culture medium and thus filling the orange gap that limits their absorption of sunlight. Cy5 enhances diatoms' photosynthetic oxygen production and cell density by 49% and 40%, respectively. Cy5 incorporation also increases by 12% the algal lipid free fatty acid (FFA) production versus the pristine cell culture, thus representing a suitable way to enhance biofuel generation from algal species. Time-resolved spectroscopy reveals Forster Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET) from Cy5 to algal chlorophyll. The present approach lays the basis for non-genetic tailoring of diatoms' spectral response to light harvesting, opening up new ways for their industrial valorization.
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