Algae-based solutions for food and medicine
More than 200 algae experts gathered for the fourth AlgaEurope conference in Berlin. Lively discussions offered insights into recent scientific advancements as well as market prospects.
Algae are green multi-talents. They can produce a wide range of high-value products: food or feed for fish cultivation, food supplements, or ingredients for pharmaceuticals or cosmetics. Alternatively, algae can also be used for energy production and waste treatment. In early December experts from research and industry met to discuss recent developments at the fourth AlgaEurope conference, this time taking place in Berlin. The comprehensive programme was comprised of ten sessions and offered a wide selection of topics: “We have 54 lectures and more than 80 poster presentations from different fields of applied phycology,” says Mario Tredici, professor at the University of Florence and Chair of the Scientific Committee.
The versatility of microalgae
Microalgae are great candidates for numerous industrial applications – from food complements to biofuel. They are advantageous because their production requires only few natural resources. Moreover, algae have a high productivity and climatic resilience as well as substantial biological value. One major challenge, however, is the set-up of large scale production facilities, especially for newly discovered species. Despite the numerous opportunities there are still only few operating large-scale commercial microalgae production plants. Current research tries to tackle this by developing a universal methodology for setting procedures to reach maximal biomass productivity in industrial scale culture systems.
High value products
High value products made from microalgae were not only at the centre of the conference discussions, but also present during the coffee and lunch breaks. Participants quenched their thirst with drinks containing extracts of spirulina alga and tasted different foods with algae ingredients. Several interesting developments of current research were presented during the sessions:
For instance, natural products are highly promising for the development of drugs with new lead structures. Microalgae and cyanobacteria show promising potential for the identification of innovative antimalarial compounds. In screens, extracts of several species have been identified to be active against the most severe form of malaria (Plasmodium falciparum).
Additionally, the ethanolic extracts of the diatom P. tricornutum show potential as natural antioxidants, meaning, they are protective against oxidative stress and could thus be a valuable ingredient for the cosmetic industry.
The use of spirulina in bakery products, on the other hand, raises the protein content of bakery products such as “Crostini”. And last but not least, microalgae can also be integrated in biostimulants, biopesticides, feed additives, nutraceuticals, and aquaculture.
Connecting science and industry
The discovery and exploitation of marine bioproducts for research and commercial development requires access to biological material as well as state-of-the-art technologies and innovations. European Research Infrastructures (RIs) have a wealth of knowledge, excellent facilities, harmonized workflows and are keen to support academic and private users. The European Marine Biological Research Infrastructure Cluster (EMBRIC) brings together six such RIs in a European project and presented itself at the AlgaEurope. The goal of the initiative is to promote the blue economy and strengthen the connection of science with industry to foster the discovery of novel marine products.
At the AlgaEurope conference EMBRIC also launched its Microalgae Company Forum. “Using company forums, we want to raise awareness of the technical platforms and the scientific expertise available within the European Research Infrastructures,” highlights Mery Piña, the Scientific and Technical manager of EMBRIC.