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To you, it might be green pond scum. But to some researchers, algae is a vehicle for making key pharmaceutical and industrial compounds. A recent patent could give one company a virtual corner on the biotech algae market. The patent, issued to Martek Biosciences of Columbia, Md., outlines a process to grow non-algal genes in algal cells. The process takes place in a few hours, in contrast to the months it takes to introduce genes into transgenic crop plants like corn or tobacco. The process could also help model the large-scale production of chemicals in crops in fast-growing algae. Martek is working on algal production methods for docosahexaenoic acid, a baby formula ingredient that aids mental development.

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