[UK] It’s a “food of the future” which could provide the answers for the earth’s growing population but can you imagine tucking into microalgae?
Researchers believe the abundant product is a sustainable food ingredient which provides protein and nutrients.
It is estimated that by 2050, the Earth’s population will reach nine billion and just how we’re going to feed that many people is one of our biggest challenges.
A scientist from Swansea University’s Algal team is at the forefront of research into it.
Algae could provide us with ‘good fats’
Dr Carole Llewellyn from the Department of Biosciences at Swansea University says the microscopic algae can play an important role in providing us with the good fats our bodies need.
Dr Llewellyn said: “Our research focuses on microalgae so tiny we can’t see them with the naked eye.
“These microalgae are microscopic living cells that can contain high levels of omega oils, the benefits of which have been well documented.”
She added: “Just a teaspoon of seawater can contain thousands of microalgal cells. These miniscule algae cells can contain up to 50% oil so they are a massive potential source of omega-3 fatty acids.”.
But because of the volumes of seawater that would be needed to obtain a sufficient amount for extraction the team are having to use large vessels, called photobioreactors to create a dry biomass.
“The resulting dry biomass is actually edible, and very rich in protein, nutrients and omega oil. From this we can produce a pure algal oil.
‘I am sure microalgae will become a more main stream source of food’
“You can already buy algal products in health food shops and as the extent of its health benefits are realised, I am sure microalgae will become a more main stream source of food.
“It is a food for the future and is also very sustainable,” she said.
Farmers are now trialling giving the microalgae to dairy cows and beef animals so that they produce milk and meat high in omega oil.
Microalgae are tiny photosynthetic plants which turn energy from the sun into sugars and proteins, absorbing and converting carbon dioxide in the process and expelling oxygen.
Problems limiting production
Algae were the world’s first photosynthetic organisms and millions of years of evolution have allowed them to exploit a diverse array of environments, some with extreme temperatures, UV conditions, salinity, or low nutrient levels.
As a result, they developed into a hearty and efficient variety of organisms whose bodies the scientific community is hoping to harness.
To date microalgal-based food has been limited to the specialty market for several reasons, including the problem of production.
While small scale, the algae grows easily, there have been issues with making them into commercial scales.
Photo: Researchers at Swansea University working on algae samples
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