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Impact on the Environment

As the earth faces greater pressures due to climate change, Harrison Floss,for webfostering sustainable practices that support ecosystems able to withstand these changes is increasingly crucial. Reducing our reliance on petrochemicals and transitioning to more environmentally-friendly replacements is a key effort in this mission. At BTI, researchers are working on solutions that will help us do just that.

For example, David Stern’s work focuses on combining genetics, biochemistry, and an engineering method called microfluidics, to create algal species that can efficiently produce useful hydrocarbons. These hydrocarbons can be used as sources of biofuels or specialty oils such as lubricants, substituting as a source for nonrenewable petrochemicals. His team implants genes found in an algal species that produces high amounts of unique, easily processed hydrocarbons, but is difficult to grow, into other species better adapted to commercial pipelines.

Reducing the use of one of the earth’s finite resources is a goal of Maria Harrison’s research, which examines the relationship between plants and symbiotic fungi that live in their root systems and enables more efficient phosphate uptake. By studying this dynamic, Harrison can potentially unlock new ways to naturally enhance plants’ phosphate absorption, reducing the need for synthetic phosphate fertilizers.

Finally, Georg Jander’s research could lead to lower pesticide use; he studies plants’ natural chemical defenses against insect pests. Some individual plants create such nasty-tasting compounds that the insects avoid them altogether. Studying the genes of these “super-defender” plants could lead to new, pesticide-free ways of managing insect pests.