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I read that one hard step in algae oil extraction is to rupture (or fracture) the cell walls to get the contents inside. Some people use chemical methods; some use sonication or mechanical forces.

I wonder why nobody is talking about using viruses to accomplish this task? Viruses destroy the cells and release clones of itself. Some article states that there are plenty of unknown viruses in seawater. I'm sure a major part of it infects algae.

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Another major concern would be containment. Let's say you start producing industrial amounts of virus that you engineer to quickly causes the lysis of algae (we'll ignore mutations). Where are you going to grow that where it wouldn't also be open to insects, birds, or even wind. You could move this entire operation in a green house, but then you start to loose your major provider of energy in the first place--the sun! Again it could work, but is unlikely to yield what you want. – Atl LED Feb 23 '14 at 0:55

Viruses hijack the hosts translational machinery, forcing the host to downregulate translation of other proteins in favor of viral proteins. Your cells will eventually lyse, but in the meantime they would not be producing the enzymes required to make whatever product it is you're trying to get, likely resulting in low yields that are contaminated with virus.

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A virus has to infect the cell, take over the cell machinery to make more virus, and then is might lyse the cell. And then you have to wait for more virus to do that again to more cells, and you have to keep the algae alive all that time.

Chemical or mechanical shearing would be much faster, and you don't have to run the risk of virus floating around and getting into stocks that you don't want to kill right now.

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But we could use a lot of virus to shorten the time it takes for all the cells to get infected, the virus can just be reused from a previous batch so it's cheap to produce. Mechanical shearing would be inefficient if you want to fracture cells that small, and chemical methods require recycling and they are expensive in the first place. Virus is using the energy of the cell itself to do the fracture, and afterall the purpose of making oil from algae is to use the cell to produce energy, it's still a net gain. – seilgu Feb 22 '14 at 18:41
Consider where you'd get all that virus. Purify it out of the lysed cultures you just made? The viral lysis takes longer, results in less product, and requires an additional virus recovery step. If you're making energy, it's probably more efficient to run the sonicator off the extra yields you get from sonicating your algae instead of using viruses. – Resonating Jun 4 '15 at 15:25

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