Biofuel to food: Australian native microalgae have ‘great potential’ for supplements

The nutritional profile of Australian native microalgae can match Spirulina and Chlorella for food supplements, according to researchers.

Researchers from the College of Marine and Environmental Science, James Cook University in Australia and employees of MBD Energy Ltd – a company that produces algae from waste water – looked at the composition of Australian native microalgal species Scenedesmus sp., Nannochloropsis sp., Dunaliella sp. and a chlorophytic polyculture compared to commercial Spirulina and Chlorella products.

“The Australian native microalgae exhibited similar, and in several cases superior, organic nutritional properties relative to the assessed commercial products, with biochemical profiles rich in high-quality protein, nutritious polyunsaturated fats (such as α-linolenic acid, arachidonic acid, and eicosapentaenoic acid) and antioxidant pigments,” they wrote in the journal Plos One.

The findings suggested these Australian microalgae species held potential as multi-nutrients in food supplements. The researchers said Nannochloropsis sp. was particularly interesting due to its high EPA and astaxanthin levels.

This latest research was part of the Advanced Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre Australian federal funding scheme, which was co-funded by MBD Energy Ltd.

Big potential, narrow use

They said a “myriad” of microalgae species with good nutritional profiles existed, yet currently only a few were used in the human nutrition market.

Spirulina and Chlorella held much of this market share, with Nannochloropsis, Scenedesmus, and Dunaliella currently used primarily for large-scale applications in the biofuel and aquaculture industries.

While production of Dunaliella for human consumption was on the rise, ton per year production was still ten- and four-fold more for Spirulina and Chlorella, respectively.

Yet they said culturing data like productivity and environmental tolerances were already established for the three varieties, meaning efficient production and expansion was possible to serve the nutraceutical industry.

According to Algohub – a European consortium of companies including Roquette and universities that promote microalgae’s nutritional potential – there are hundreds of thousands of types of microalgae with habitats ranging from hot springs to polar ice.

Dr Jean-Paul Cadoret of the Unit of Biotechnology and Marine Resources at the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea (IFREMER) – a member of the association – said: “They are also resistant to high salinities, desiccation and low light intensities. Microalgae represent a large and diverse group. There are probably more microalgae than terrestrial plant varieties, descending from one of the evolving microalgae lines.”


Photo: Australian native microalgae exhibited similar or superior organic nutritional properties compared to Spirulina and Chlorella, researchers say

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