During the last 30 years we have had several research projects on algae, and here we present some more resent examples of them.
Health promoting food and feed from micro-algal omega-3 fatty acids, pigments, and bioactive peptides produced on food industry side streams
This project was funded by the Academy of Finland in 2014-2017, and focused on mixotrophy, i.e. the ability of algae to use organic nutrients or phagotrophy in addition to photosynthesis and inorganic nutrient uptake. Further, the project focused on kleptoplasty, a phenomenon in which a protist steals chloroplasts form algae and use them for photosynthesis. The research was done at the University of Helsinki and at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, United States using e.g. laboratory-scale feeding experiments, microscopy and staining methods, species-specific qPCR and other molecular methods, metabolomics analysis (fatty and amino acids, sterols) with GC-MS, and feeding experiments with zooplankton. The research hypothesis was that mixotrophy affects the biochemical composition of the organisms, but this was not supported by the studies. However, kleptoplastic protozoa were shown to be able to significantly modify their prey populations.
The project (2017-2018) responds to the global need of sustainable sources of health promoting omega-3 fatty acids that are presently mainly obtained from over-exploited natural fish stocks and non-sustainably farmed fish. It also aims to decrease waste generation by using food industry side stream waters as a culture medium of the algae and aim to zero-waste in the algal biomass utilization. The laboratory studies apply genomics, transcriptomics and other molecular methods for omega-3 production optimization. The project is funded by the Finnish Cultural Foundation, Päijät-Häme Regional fund, The Finnish Food Research Foundation and R. Erik and Bror Serlachius Foundation.
Algae Factory -project drew on latest research to take advantage of industrial waste streams to grow sustainable and nutrient-rich valuable raw materials out of microalgae, e.g. for the food and cosmetics industries. It was funded by Business Finland's 'New Business from Research Ideas' funding, the work was shift to commercial operations in late 2019.
Microalgae are a source of various high-value ingredients, such as long chain omega-3-fatty acids (EPA and DHA) and other bioactive lipids, antioxidants, pigments, vitamins and proteins. Upcycling the side streams of industrial production to grow algae for the generation of valuable functional ingredients follows the principles of circular economy, while providing a waste water treatment solution.
The research team of the University of Helsinki has established over many years of investigation those strains of algae that are superior to currently most common commercially used algae for their propensity to grow as biomass as well as to produce valuable compounds.