Using Algae as a biofuel is a great idea. Unlike corn, which is the primary ingredient in biofuel right now, algae takes up very little space to grow. It is also potentially easier to cultivate and turn into fuel- especially if it was genetically engineered in the first place.
But that’s part of the problem. If scientists create algae precisely for how easy it is to grow, what’s to keep it from escaping and taking over in the wild? That’s practically the definition of an invasive species.
Allison Snow, professor of evolution, ecology, and organismal biology at Ohio State University wrote that it was especially important to see what kind of damage they could create. “If they can survive, we also need to know whether some types of genetically engineered blue-green algae, for example, could produce toxins or harmful algal blooms, or both.”
Snow has studied things like this before, in 2002 she led a study to show how genes inserted into crop plants could find their way into wild plants, doing things like making weeds stronger. And given that algae doesn’t have the breeding history that plants like soy and corn have it’s going to be even more difficult to figure out what damage they could cause.
Even though so-called “suicide genes” could be implemented in the algae to make it impossible to survive in the wild there would still need to be some environmental assessments taken. Just as we wouldn’t want to let invasive species of algae out into the wilds to cause havoc we probably also wouldn’t want to infect wild species with the inability to survive.