Bio-exploitation of solar energy (2020/2021)

Course code
Matteo Ballottari
Academic sector
Language of instruction
Teaching is organised as follows:
Activity Credits Period Academic staff Timetable
teoria 5 II semestre Matteo Ballottari

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laboratorio 1 II semestre Matteo Ballottari

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Learning outcomes

The course aims to provide students with the knowledge needed to understand the organization and operation of an autotrophic organism and the consequences of autotrophy metabolism s (as opposed to mixotrophy and heterotrophy).
The course has two modules called "Plant Physiology" and "Catalysis of autotrophic biosynthesis".

The "Plant Physiology" module provides the basics of functions that allow the plant life in unicellular and multicellular organisms, including the absorption of solutes, the transport of water and organic and inorganic substances, the perception of environmental signals, integration of internal and external signals with the mechanisms that control the development of the plant and its reproduction or vegetative growth. The classic themes of plant physiology will be especially extended to single-celled photosynthetic organisms that live in the aquatic environment.

The "Catalysis of the autotrophic biosynthesis" module deals with the systems that catalyze specific organic biosynthesis with the use of light energy. Examples include the biosynthesis of liquid and gaseous biofuels, the exploitation of waste water, production of dietary supplements, bio-materials and other high value-added compounds.

Finally, the course provides a practical module (15 hours divided into 3 lessons) in which students will carry out practical tests relating to the lectures topics like production and extraction of metabolites in plant cells, management of algal cultures and characterization of cell movement and plastids.


- Introduction to the course: maximum photosynthetic efficiency and potential of photosynthetic organisms for the production of compounds of interest
- Evolution of photosynthetic organisms from photosynthetic anoxygenic bacteria to cyanobacteria
- Evolution of photosynthetic organisms: primary and secondary endosymbiosis and appearance of photosynthetic eukaryotic cells. Description of the main types of microalgae and macroalgae
- Evolution of photosynthetic organisms: colonization of the emerged lands and development of lower and higher plants
- Physiological, biochemical and metabolic characteristics of cyanobacteria
- Physiological, biochemical and metabolic characteristics of eukaryotic microalgae
- Physiological, biochemical and metabolic characteristics of macroalgae
- Overview of secondary metabolism in photosynthetic organisms for the production of compounds with high added value
- Nutritional needs of unicellular photosynthetic organisms and strategies for obtaining nutrients from the external environment
- Perception of light, photoreceptors and signal transduction
- Current limitations in biomass production through the fixation of CO2 by microalgae and cyanobacteria and possible solutions
- Use of unicellular and multicellular photosynthetic organisms for the production of biomass for food, nutraceutical and cosmetic purposes
- Use of unicellular and multicellular photosynthetic organisms for the production of renewable energy
- Use of higher plants for phytoremediation
- Use of algae and higher plants for molecular farming
- Use of photosynthetic protein complexes in an extracellular environment for the exploitation of solar energy

- Preparation of microalgae cultures and characterization of biomass productivity of different algal species
- Extraction and characterization of metabolites produced by algal cultures

DIDACTIC METHODS lectures (with slides), group discussions and lab exercitations

Reference texts:
Teaching material provided by the teacher (available on e-learning platform)

Elements of plant physiology Taiz / Zieger / Moller / Murphy

Assessment methods and criteria

The objective of the exam consists in verifying the level of achievement of the previously indicated objectives. The exam consists of a written test with some open questions and some closed questions taken from the teaching material provided. During the lessons, examples of written exams are presented. Immediately after the written test, it is possible to arrange an oral interview (optional) with the teacher.