The Neofood project from the Basque Country (Spain) is searching for novel Oceanic strains of algae in salt-marshes around the coast, specifically those that naturally produce essential fatty acids. These algae will serve as an alternative to fish oils for Omega-3 food supplements.
A syndicate of Agricultural focused researchers are on the hunt for more Omega-3 producing algae. The latest hot spot is the Basque country’s scenic coast, where the Neiker Tecnalia (aka the Basque Institute for Agricultural Research and Development) is situated.
Their research team has identified (and separated out) a new group of microalgae strains which produce DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These algae from the Thraustochytridos family were found in samples collected from coastal salt marshes. Since DHA is the main type of Omega-3 acid derived from fish oil, an algal alternative to such a non-sustainable source is very desirable in the Biotech industry.
We have discussed how Microalgae is a sturdy and highly productive type of organism, easy to manipulate and culture en masse for Industry. Indeed, applications of microalgae extend way beyond food to include biofuels (for Aviation), waste remediation and textiles printing. Other EU biotechs have already cottoned on to such a industry niche – such as Sweden’s Simris Alg, and Bordeux’s Fermentalg (France).
Lipid synthesis can amass up to 50% of algae cellular volume, of which the proportion of DHA which is produced can be as high as 70%…so the microalgae potential for essential fatty acid production is unrivaled in the microbial world.
The Neofood project also extends its research focus to the other lipids produced, to search for novel bioactive compounds (e.g. lipases or proteases) which may have other applications in food production. The Neiker Tecnalia institute has funding from the Basque government’s ‘Berriker Program‘ (various associated departments of which are slightly confusing…).
Nonetheless, the researchers are clearly aware of the potential health benefits of polyunsaturated fatty acids from the Thraustochytridos family, and of course its associated commercial value.