Making Inexpensive Insulin Using Microalgae

BioCurious, IndieBio EU, New York Botanics, University College Cork
San Jose, California
DOI: 10.18258/6266
Funded on 1/18/16
Successfully Funded
  • $2,277
  • 103%
  • Funded
    on 1/18/16

About This Project

Help us to study the feasibility of using plant cells as protein factories. We would like to run a pilot study to produce insulin using microalgae. If our experiment is successful, we will then try to produce cheap edible vaccines for diseases in aquaculture, and eventually for human diseases such as cholera.

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What is the context of this research?

I was inspired to pursue this project when I made contact with two other individuals, Simon Porphy, a Fermentation Scientist with a Master’s Degree in Bioprocess Engineering, and Jeffrey Boore, a UC Berkeley genomics professor and former panel adviser for the National Science Foundation. They informed me of the untapped potential of microalgae and their intent to harness it, and so we all decided to collaborate. Numerous studies have shown that vaccine production in algae is on the brink of becoming an established technology [1][2][3]. I want to provide public exposure for this new development and demonstrate that with the right research, it will be ready for industry. I want to use microalgae to produce therapeutic proteins and bring down their cost. I seek your help to do so.

What is the significance of this project?

According to the World Health Organization and the American Diabetes Association, cholera and diabetes are treatable diseases that take the lives of approximately 376,000 people worldwide each year [1][2]. Imagine the number of lives that could be saved by using plants to develop cheap edible vaccines, or using algae to grow more affordable synthetic insulin for diabetics in disadvantaged countries. The benefits to developing nations would be tremendous. I have assembled a highly qualified team of scientists to help me, and they have many years of research and industry experience with microalgae. With your help, we can use our talents to try and make a positive contribution to society. It is also a great opportunity to show how powerful crowd-sourced scientific research can be.

What are the goals of the project?

I want to use this pilot study to demonstrate that protein production in algae can be more economically viable than traditional methods using bacterial or mammalian cells. I have designed a new gene to produce synthetic insulin in algae which does not rely on photosynthesis. Additional details of the experimental design (for those familiar with molecular biology) will be available. Essentially, I will be inserting a gene encoding synthetic proinsulin into the chloroplasts of microalgae, where it should accumulate to high concentrations without killing the cell. A similar experiment showed promising results [3].


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UPDATE: Since we were able to meet our funding goal thanks to the incredible generosity of friends and strangers, we can go beyond the bare minimum. We would like to use any additional funds to order more DNA primers, additional algae strains from the chlamy center, more glassware, and an additional shaker. We would also like to synthesize a few more variants of our synthetic proinsulin gene, and an antigenic viral epitope for a fish vaccine down the line if our algae insulin results are promising. It would also be nice to get a genomic DNA extraction kit so we can purify the DNA professionally and store it as a library, and maybe not skimp on having all the necessary chemicals to build our own media variation and buffers so we don’t have to buy expensive pre-made media each time. The budget of this pilot study is critical for successfully completing the experiment. It is needed to directly fund the demonstration that our ideas work.

Endorsed by

Excited for this project. The team assembled has expertise from a wide variety of backgrounds and will be able to make big strides towards the overall goals of the project.
This is a unique project as a proof of concept . This microalgae based model if successful has a wide potential to impact various streams of medical and pharmaceutical manufacturing.i am happy to endorse this important project developed by highly qualified people in their field of expertise.
This is a potentially transformative project with important implications for medicine and human health. I know Antonio to be creative, resourceful and dedicated, and I'm confident in the team's ability to make good progress in this area of research. I'm very excited about the proposed endeavor, I fully endorse Antonio and his collaborators, and I wish them much success.
I have no doubt that this initiative will have significant progress in the near future due to a variety of important reasons: adaptability, efficiency, simplicity, novelty, etc. I know Simon Jegan Porphy as a qualified expert in the field of fermentation. I think the use of his skills can help at scale up of derived technologies.
I think the project shows a lot of promise! The marketable applications in the US are significant.
Studying microalgae opens the door for producing therapeutics inexpensively and provides preliminary work for extra-planetary recombinant protein production!

Meet the Team

Antonio Lamb
Antonio Lamb
Plant Molecular Biologist


B.S., Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz, IndieBio 2016 Cohort
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Simon Jegan Porphy, Jegathese
Simon Jegan Porphy, Jegathese
Fermentation Scientist


Master in Bioprocess Engineering from University of Auckland, New Zealand.
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Jeffrey Boore
Jeffrey Boore
Scientific Advisor


Ph.D., University of Michigan, Currently at University of California, Berkeley
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Alec O'Reilly
Alec O'Reilly
Research Aide


B.S., Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz
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Sebastian S Cocioba
Sebastian S Cocioba
Plant Biologist


Owner of New York Botanics, LLC., Board Member at Binomica Labs 501(c)3
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Team Bio

We are a group of passionate and educated scientists with several years of industry and academic experience. We value transparency and honesty, which we will maintain throughout the experimental process.

Antonio Lamb

I am a scientist trained in plant and bacterial molecular genetics. I am competent in plant tissue culture, agrobacterium-mediated genetic engineering, and microalgae plastid engineering.

Simon Jegan Porphy, Jegathese

I am a Scientist with expertise in Fermentation research. I bring strong entrepreneurial drive and passion for biotechnology. All discovery happens by serendipity but for commercial success we need structure, planning and execution. I bring my engineering and science skills into the project to make it successful. Almost any idea can be demonstrated on a lab scale. However, good engineering skills are required to understand scale-up challenges and study the feasibility of a process. I hold more than 4 years of Industry work experience. Previously worked with DuPont and Life Technologies Also, I have first authored, peer-reviewed publication on studying the feasibility of microalgae biomass production for biofuels.


Jeffrey Boore

Adjunct Professor at the University of California Berkeley

Holds a Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Michigan and a B.S. in Biology from Penn State University.

Led 23 grant-funded projects, overseen numerous whole genome sequencing projects, authored 115 scientific publications.

Delivered over 250 scientific presentations,

Served on numerous advisory boards and panels, including those to the National Science Foundation, US Department of Agriculture, National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, and National Institutes of Health.


Alec O'Reilly

I will be helping maintain the experiments, analyzing data, and assisting with the transformation protocols.

Sebastian S Cocioba

CEO & Founder at New York Botanics, LLC, an ornamental plant genetic engineering start-up located in New York City. He is also an independent researcher for the education-oriented biotech non-profit, Binomica Labs. His research focuses on the nutritional requirements of life and the metabolic basis of speciation as well as the development of open source hardware for use in the molecular biology setting both formal and amateur(LinkedIn)

Additional Information

Project Backers

  • 38Backers
  • 103%Funded
  • $2,277Total Donations
  • $59.92Average Donation
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