Algae growth progress: bioreactor plans

Maintaining a culture

This week we learned a lot about maintaining algae cultures in their appropriate medium (we are maintaining a google doc to collaborate and maintain these and other resources).

We had a number of practical questions about building a bioreactor to grow our algae, and about whether there were real or just semantic differences between the terms we were seeing across documentation. We reached out to Lauren again who was able to give clarification around terms, recommendations for lighting, and tubing. Our plan is to inoculate our medium on Thursday!

What to get (updated)

  1. Some kind of container, sterilized: we decided on mason jars (bought)
  2. Nutrient solution/ medium for chlorella, nori, and spirulina (bought)
  3. Small aquarium heater (bought)
  4. Thermometer(s) (bought)
  5. pH strips (bought)
  6. Light source: I thought we could use flourescents but I will also check Lauren’s suggestions
  7. System for aeration: sterilized tubing and t-valves connected to an air pump (borrowed/bought)
  8. Pipettes and slides (which I imagine we also need to sterilize) (bought)
  9. System for camera, thermometer, pH monitoring (more below)

Setting up a monitoring camera

We want to be able to monitor the temperature, growth, and pH of our algae remotely. Monitoring each of our algae solutions with pH and temperature sensors seemed prohibitively expensive, so I thought, why not set up a camera?

Some options:

  • An IP camera (challenges: could not find at the ER; might need to buy)
  • An android phone set up to work like an IP camera (challenges: android in the ER could not be updated to have the appropriate software downloaded)
  • GoPro live stream with ffmpeg & ffplay (challenges: was finally was able to download ffplay but realized this solution probably requires a computer, which I wanted to avoid)
  • Raspberry pi camera (challenges: I haven’t yet tried this but would like to; I need to order a camera!)

Microscopic imaging tools 

This tadpole egg dividing!

Eric had recommended phone adapters that allow you to connect a smart phone to a microscope. I chose one from Thingiverse that seemed to require minimal assembly for iPhone 6. We have Ultimaker 2+ 3D printers at ITP and the steps including required software & for setting up your file are available through their Quickstart Guide. I downloaded Cura, exported the file, and tried printing…but this didn’t work for some reason. I just got a wad of plastic.

I found other instructions for building a powerful microscope using a glass bead and a small 3D-printed (maybe with better luck this time) piece. The design was developed with smartphone portability and rapid imaging in mind.

Limits to growth (connections, literature)

Marine algae cultures

This warning system for toxic algal blooms measures rapid decline in oxygen levels.

Often used geo-engineering methods are additions of aluminum salts or modified clays into the lake to lock excess phosphorus stored in the sediments.

However, results have not always been good. Often lake managers have used geo-engineering uncritically in lakes where the external loading of phosphorous was not reduced enough or they have applied too low dosage because of economy, says Sara Egemose, department of biology, University of Southern Denmark.

On algae:

“Although algal biomass contains less than 1% P, it is often one of the most important growth- limiting factors in algal biotechnology.”

Inorganic Algal Nutrition, Chapter 8

Final Project development

In class we did and XY Grid exercise to help us think through our final project ideas. Utsav and Lindsay asked me helpful questions and gave some great suggestions. I included project ideas that I had earlier in the semester that didn’t have to do with algae, to see if I could pull out interesting components and evaluate them against each other.

Some big decision points are:

  • Do I want to create an intervention to address nutrient pollution on an infrastructure scale (for a city, for a home)? I would like to be don’t find this feasible.
  • Do I want to create an app or visualization that helps people understand their impact on the earth’s ecological systems? Yes, but then what?
  • Do I want to make food? Yes, but this is hard.
  • If I create something visual, do I appeal to the beautiful aspects or the ugly aspects? And do I want people to be disgusted? Amused? Hungry?
  • On these last two, Utsav and Lindsay pointed out that demonstrating a ‘failure’ could also be interesting.
  • And I have to include: who is my audience?

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