University of Texas plant physiologist Jerry Brand has spent the past decade lovingly tending the world's largest collection of pond scum.
Now the quest for renewable energy has made Mr. Brand and his algae hot commodities.
As director of the university's Culture Collection of Algae, Mr. Brand is charged with overseeing samples of 3,000 organisms.
"We have more genetic diversity than in all the zoos and botanic gardens of the world put together," says the 67-year-old Mr. Brand.
Conducting a recent tour of the collection in the university's three-story biology building, Mr. Brand strolled past six-foot-tall shelves filled with flasks containing algae. He paused to point out jugs bubbling with green-hued liquid as a mixture of oxygen and carbon dioxide was injected into living samples to aerate them.
The collection's unrivaled diversity has drawn the attention of entrepreneurs who believe that buried within Mr. Brand's assortment of single-cell organisms could be one answer to the world's energy problems.