Attempting to unlock the potential of microalgae

Microalgae represent one of the largest, yet one of the most poorly understood, groups of microorganisms on Earth.

Microalgae are microorganisms that utilize light energy and inorganic nutrients (carbon dioxide, nitrogen, phosphorus etc.) and synthesise valuable biological compounds, which humans need in their daily lives, such as omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, proteins, carbohydrates and pigments. They thrive in harsh environmental conditions of high UV-irradiance and photooxidation stresses due to their unique survival strategies.

An example of natural bioactive products derived from microalgae are the carotenoids, or carotenes.

Carotenoids display very high antioxidant properties and can be applied as food and feed additives and as health supplements for good eye health and vision, healthy skin and mucus membranes, immune and antioxidant systems.

They help to maintain normal visual function in humans by absorbing and attenuating blue light striking the retina (lutein). Beta-carotene is the precursor of vitamin A, which is produced by the human body for good eye health and vision, healthy skin, immune and antioxidant systems.

The largest growing carotenoid market is for lutein.

The CHIMERA research group at Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT), led by Dr Patrick Murray at Shannon Applied Biotechnology Centre, has an ongoing programme to explore mechanisms to use microalgae as natural sources of high-value biomolecules and biomaterials for the healthcare, pharmaceutical, food, and cosmetic industries.

The group – comprising biologists, chemists, molecular biologists and analytical scientists – specialises in scientific development supports to regional and national industry aiming to bridge the gap between research and society in industrially market-focused projects. Members of the CHIMERA group were involved in the recently completed €4.2m European Commission-funded Framework 7 project, “BAMMBO” on the extraction of high-value bioactive molecules from marine microorganisms with specific interests on environmentally-friendly and sustainable-extraction processes.

Coordinated by LIT, ‘BAMMBO’ involved collaborations with universities, research centres and industries based in Ireland, Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Russia and Brazil.

The project developed sustainable methods to culture marine based micro-organisms such as micro-algae, macro-algae, fungi, bacteria and sponges in enclosed environments for production of wide ranging biologically active molecules with an immediate market applications in industry sectors spanning nutrition, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and diagnostics.

 

Photo caption: Martin Hayes – PhD Research Scientist LIT and Dr Patrick Murray – Principal Investigator Chimera Research Group

View original article at: Attempting to unlock the potential of microalgae

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