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I'm interested in what the fastest growing microalgae are under optimal conditions for photoautotrophic growth (energy from photosynthesis only). Fastest can be interpreted as either shortest doubling time, or maximum biomass yield per day per unit area.

Many of the algae investigated for biofuels are fast-growing, for example Nannochloropsis and Ankistrodesmus. There are many publications that give yields in pond culture or in outdoor photobioreactor, for example Nannochloropsis at 20g/m^2/day (dry mass). However it is not as common to see yields for lab photobioreactor (axenic, possibly with continuous illumination, and all other conditions optimized for fast growth). I'm mainly interested in what family of algae would be evolved for fast growth, and where they may be found in nature.

EDIT As one of the answers pointed out, algae can grow heterotrophically as well and that may not be a fair comparison. I changed the question to be about autotrophic growth (from photosynthesis) only.

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The answer to your question depends on many variables. To narrow down the list of possible species it might be helpful to list under which conditions you intend to grow this algae and whether you want to give an additional carbon source such as glucose or acetate.

To give you an idea why this is important: the fastest growing alga I have ever worked with is Chlorella sorokiniana with double timings in the range of two hours. However this was in acetate containing medium and it would not have relied a lot on photosynthesis to grow nor would this make a lot of sense in open pond cultivation systems.

In terms of photoautotrophic algae, we have seen the most consistent quick growth (OD) in our system (Algem photobioreactor) for Dunaliella species. But this is based more on experience than rigorously testing a lot of species. In general there also seems to be a correlation between size and growth speed. Some cyanobacteria have a growth rate of around two hours Article

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! You are quite correct, I should have mentioned that I'm interested in the fastest possible photoautotrophic growth. There could be extra CO2 but not extra organics in the growth medium (well, maybe vitamins but not organic energy sources). $\endgroup$ – Alex I Nov 22 '15 at 23:07

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