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Five exciting innovations in the world of microalgae and seaweed

The IATiP have been busily collecting knowledge, technology, and innovation of potential interest to the Irish aquaculture sector over the past year. You can learn more about the whole idea here in our first blog post (“What is Knowledge Transfer and how will it bring value to the Irish Aquaculture community?”). Very simply, we began by interviewing Irish researchers, and then expanded our reach to researchers and companies from across Europe, to identify commercially-relevant knowledge (including technology and innovations) that could be of value and support to the Irish aquaculture community.

An extensive amount of research is taking place within the microalgae and seaweed space, and so we would like to share with you a selection of the technologies, projects, and research findings that we came across during our knowledge collection exercise*.

* listed in no particular order

1. Mutated strain of Nannochloropsis gaditana that produces antioxidants at high levels without a stress phase

Astaxanthin and Canthaxanthin are both antioxidants. As antioxidants, they have many health benefits. Interestingly, they also provide the pigment that makes salmon pink and carrots orange. Currently, these are extracted from marine microalgae after applying stress conditions, such as light and temperature.

Dr Matteo Ballottari, Associate Professor in Plant Physiology, has recently discovered a mutated strain of marine microalgae, Nannochloropsis gaditana, which can produce Astaxanthin without the application of stress conditions. Furthermore, it can also accumulate both Astaxanthin and Canthaxanthin at levels higher than the levels produced by the respective cultural strain. In addition to being a source for these antioxidants, the mutated marine microalgae is a source of carotenoid and Omega-3, giving it additional applications in the fields of healthcare, and food and feed supplementation.

To find out more, please read about the ASTAOMEGA project or contact Dr Matteo Ballottari.

2. Cultivation of high protein algal biomass using excess waste nutrients

Increasing amounts of food and farm waste are processed using anaerobic digestion. Anaerobic digestion converts waste to biogas, which used is for energy, and a liquid nutrient rich digestate, most of which is returned to land as a biofertiliser. Algae are able to utilise the unwanted nutrients in the digestate (phosphorous and nitrates) and convert these into valuable biomass.

Specialising in the biosciences, Prof. Carole Llewellyn and Dr Rahul Kapoore from Swansea University have found that the level of proteins from algae grown on certain digestate is higher than the protein levels of algae grown with traditional methods. Such biomass can be used in fish feeds and other useful bio-based products.

To find out more, please read about the ALG-AD project or contact Prof. Carole Llewellyn or Dr Rahul Kapoore.

3. Detailed description of the phenology of Ulva sp. in the North-East Atlantic based on full DNA sequencing

As part of the GENIALG project (link), Dr Ronan Sulpice (NUI Galway), Dr Antoine Fort (NUI Galway), Dr Marcus McHale (NUI Galway), Dr Jose Maria Fariñas-Franco (GMIT) and other project partners, have sequenced large parts of the genomes of over one hundred strains of the commercial seaweed Ulva sp. in the North-East Atlantic. Based on this information, they have assessed existing genetic markers for their ability to distinguish unambiguously the species these strains belong to. In addition all these strains have been phenotyped for their growth characteristics and composition; for a subset of strains see http://www.plantphysiol.org/content/180/1/109.  What this means is that in the future, when a seaweed producer will want to grow an Ulva seaweed with a particular characteristic, s/he will have the possibility to select in a database the strain which provides this specification, e.g. thickness of the frond, high carbohydrate or protein content. Moreover, these efforts also pave the way for large scale strain selection based on genetic data, allowing much faster development of Ulva (or in fact any other seaweed species) strains tailored for specific applications.

To find out more, please contact Georgia Bayliss-Brown (Intrigo) to put you in touch with the researchers.

4. Irish seaweed species shown to be effective against antibiotic resistant MRSA

Extracts from Irish seaweed species have been shown to be effective against Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, better known as MRSA, a high-threat risk in the medical field. Working with University Waterford Hospital, Dr Shiau Pin (Graece) Tan from the Waterford Institute of Technology, who is developing this work, is currently exploring how seaweed extracts can be incorporated into a formulation for wound dressing applications. The seaweed wound dressings are found to have better efficacy compared to commonly used silver-based wound dressings.

To find out more, please contact the Sustainable Marine Research Group.

5. Seaweed as a source of probiotics for pig feed

Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide health benefits when consumed in adequate amounts, generally by improving or restoring the gut microbiota. Dr Gillian Gardiner (Waterford Institute of Technology) and Dr Peadar Lawlor (Teagasc, Moorepark) and their team have isolated a bacterial strain from seaweed that can be used as a probiotic in pig feed to reduce the need for antibiotics. The implementation of probiotics as a substitute for in-feed antibiotics will maintain/improve pig health while reducing the rate of emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

To find out more, please view the technology capsule on the KTI website or contact the relevant Technology Transfer Officers, Dr James O’Sullivan (Waterford Institute of Technology) and Dr Karen Dawson (Teagasc).

What is in it for you?

Together, we share an interest in progressing the aquaculture sector in Ireland. We believe that by sharing knowledge and technologies such as the ones described, it will provide you with an understanding of the state-of-the-science, and in a best case scenario, provide you with a solution to contribute towards more sustainable production. Please feel free to contact us and we can put you in touch with the people behind the innovations, and we hope to see collaborations and the industry grow as a result.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the researchers and companies who spoke to us about their work.

Do you have knowledge to share?  Are you looking for a solution to help your business?

If you have commercially relevant research that you would like to share with us, or if you are looking for a solution for a particular challenge or need that you are experiencing within the sector, we would love to hear from you.  For all enquiries, please contact Intrigo Senior Project Manager, Georgia Bayliss-Brown.