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Marine algae and their compounds as health and nutrition

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The global hunger index (GHI) ranks India high with regard to proportion of calorie-deficient or undernourished population and prevalence of underweight children up to the age of five and their mortality. UN estimates that 2.1 million Indian children die before reaching the age of five every year. Although India improved its position in GHI by climbing to 55th position in 2014 from previous year’s performance at 63rd place, it still lags behind Thailand, China, Ghana, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Nepal. GHI, however, does not consider nourishment aspect. India is among most poverty-stricken regions in the world and ranked third based on the available statistics. This affects the availability of nutrient-rich food to the larger proportion of population especially in the lower economic strata. Though government efforts to bring Food Security Act are laudable, it needs to ascertain that nutrition security can be simultaneously achieved. Options that could bring affordable nutrition would be better to avoid dependency on non-vegetarian edible source for fulfiling the need for proteins, vitamins, amino acids, fatty acids and micronutrients. Although the precise world statistic is not available, staggering 31% Indian population (over 350 million people) consists of pure vegetarians. In India, the peace towards animals ahimsa brought vegetarianism among religious followers and philosophers. However production of vegetable crops needs sufficient agricultural land, and adequate water for irrigation with substantial expenditure towards fertilisers and pesticides, which are fast dwindling due to population upsurge. Wonder plants Marine algae (better alternative to misnomer “seaweeds”) are wonder plants that could be incorporated into the human diet to improve the nutrition of vegetarian community. This group of lower organisms existed for over 2.5 billion years and therefore exhibit plethora of active chemical compounds especially developed for their own survival which could essentially be utilised for health benefit. In the Far East and Pacific, there has been a long tradition of consuming marine algae as sea vegetables. Sea vegetables were the regular diet of Celtic culture, while the reference of consuming marine algae could be traced to beginning of fourth century in Japan and during sixth century in China. This long tradition of consuming marine algae has led to several epidemiological studies confirming their health benefits. Apart from micro elements, vitamins and fibres they are the rich sources of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), mainly long chain Omega-3 fatty acids. These needs to be obtained only through diet as human body cannot synthesise them. The global eating patterns of humankind have undergone marked changes due to globalisation of the market. According to a report published on utilisation of marine resources worldwide for human consumption, 65% of 221 marine algae have been exploited for edible purpose. They are increasingly being utilised as food item apart from gelling agent in the form of garnishing agent, condiments, soups, green tea and spice. Novel products Novel products such as low sodium salt of botanical origin were developed by CSIR-Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute, Bhavnagar. This salt is prepared using red alga Kappaphycus alvarezii - which is commercially being cultivated widely in tropical waters including India - and common halophyte Salicornia brachiata which is abundantly available. The marine algal tissue selectively accumulates higher amount of potassium salt. The salt contents 30% potassium chloride and 65% sodium chloride. The potassium also helps in slackening of muscles. Thus it is medically prescribed for hypertension patients. This salt is also naturally fortified with micro elements especially magnesium and iron as well. The free flowing salt can be obtained without any chemical processing. The second novel product developed from Kappaphycus alvarezii is refined juice for potential health drink application. The juice contains iodine, magnesium, calcium, sodium, zinc, phosphorus and iron and some of the compounds help brain function and boost immunity. Iron and calcium content The marine algal biomass can also be utilised for brimming snack food industry. The research conducted by CSIR-Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore, and CSIR-Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute have clearly shown that incorporation of most common edible green alga Enteromorpha compress in snack food such as pakora can increase iron and calcium content about five-fold. The calorific values of most of the marine algae are low which makes them ideal candidate for developing anti-obesity food products. Other compounds such as soluble fibres, antioxidants, amino acids, vitamin B12 can improve the dietary content of snack food which is otherwise considered as junk food. The antioxidant potential of several marine algae is being studied and it appears that some of these species possess good promise to utilise them for potential health benefits. The detailed study of over hundred marine algal taxa from tropical waters have suggested that the lipid content of these algae is much lower (> 20 mg/g fr wt) than land grown edible vegetables. Nevertheless, a substantially high amount (up to 70%) of nutritionally important polyunsaturated fatty acids of total fatty acid composition was recorded. The incorporation of dried algal powder as in fast foods such as pasta, pizza and fried foods could act as cost-effective dietary supplement. Our studies carried out along the west coast of India showed that the mineral content of edible red alga Porphyra vietnamensis is higher than land vegetables and other edible marine algae such as Caulerpa lentillifera, Enteromorpha flexuosa, Monostroma oxysperum, Eucheuma denticulatum, and Gracilaria parvispora reported from Hawaii. The recently-developed green method by us on integrated production of several compounds from fresh marine algal biomass explored possibility of utilising entire biomass including nutritionally important protein concentrate, having applications in food industry. The other interesting byproducts include pigments such as chlorophylls and phycobiliproteins having enormous applications in confectionery industry as edible food colourants. Marine algal salads The marine algal salads are immensely popular in countries like Korea, Japan, China and Vietnam. In southern and central Vietnam, agarophytes like local species of Gracilaria and Gelidiella are used for preparing edible jelly called “xu xoa.” The jelly is eaten with a sweet mixture of lime juice, sugar, coconut milk and ginger extract. The other popular edible alga is Gracilaria euchumatoides which has been used to prepare soft candy locally known as “che rau cau” available in roadside shops. The marine algal pudding is given to lactating mothers to improve breast feed in Korea. The fermented preparation prepared from green alga Codium is traditional delicacy in Far East countries. Marine algae have been the extraordinary source of an essential element ‘iodine’ which is absent in majority of other foods. Therefore, consuming marine algal products ensures maintaining healthy thyroid to avoid medical conditions like goitres. The medicinal properties of marine algae have been studied extensively. Although, there have been several metabolites with biological activities reported, very few products with real potential applications have been developed or brought in the market. The most promising leads persuaded by commercial pharmaceutical companies in their R&D laboratories include sulfated polysaccharides with antiviral activities, halogenated furanones as antifouling compounds and kahalalide F from green marine alga Bryopsis for possible treatment in lung cancer, tumours and AIDS. The other compounds such as macro algal lectins, fucoidans, kainoids as well as aplysiatoxins have also been significant in drug discovery programmes. The consumption of marine algae regularly have shown to reduce the incidences of lifestyle associated diseases such as cancer, coronary heart ailments, neurodegenerative disorders and inflammation. Key challenge The key challenge is developing viable methods of commercial farming of marine algae which should be cost-effective and labour-intensive. The farming of edible algae such as Prophyra (Nori), and Monostroma (Awo-Nori) is traditionally being carried out in Japan. Although most of the polysaccharide yielding marine algae are cultivated using vegetative fragments, most of the edible algae propagate through spores. This required clear understanding of reproductive strategy and control over sporulation. The nursery techniques need to be implemented for rearing the germlings before outplanting in the sea. The recent biotechnological interventions such as protoplast isolation, fusion and tissue culture techniques could be implemented to develop new fast growing and high yielding varieties, along with conventional breeding methodologies. However, the latter is time-consuming and requires backcross to confirm the traits. Nevertheless, advancement in cultivation techniques to improve productivity, scalability and environmental acceptability is the need of the hour. The food industry in India is worth around US$155 billion which is expected to reach about US$344 billion by the year 2025, with annual increase of about 4.1%. The share of snacks food alone is US$3 billion with an impressive rate of around 15-20% per annum. Close to 1,000 types of snack foods are available. The market is driven by creating innovative snack foods and thus there are plenty of opportunities for creating marine algal based snack food industries in India. Nevertheless, it is worth remembering that the marine algae do not always come with beneficial nutrition but also contain undesired chemicals especially heavy metals, more studies are thus desired. (The authors are scientists from Marine Algal Research Station, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research)   Source: http://www.fnbnews.com/article/detnews.asp?articleid=37502&sectionid=1

As corn supplies dry up, green stuff from the sea could feed livestock

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21.08.15

algae-corn feed 1 Nothing quite beats the taste of corn of the cob in summer or the delightful yellow offering of a true succotash. For centuries, corn has been a staple in North American diets and continues to be a primary choice for meals whether in its native form or processed, such as corn flakes. Apart from human uses, corn makes up the majority of feed for livestock. At one point, over 95% of the feed grains grown in the United States were based on corn. It’s no surprise then that in 2015 alone, some 89.2 million acres will be grown in the United States. This represents around 40% of all the corn grown worldwide. But corn has seen a decline due to a number of factors. Crops have been hard hit by climate change. Higher temperatures have led to decreased yields and less overall abundance. As a result, the value of corn has dropped since 2012. This has put additional pressure on farmers, suggesting they may have to forego corn and look to other crops to maintain viability. This could harm corn stocks and hinder food security. There may be an answer to the corn dilemma, but to find it, one has to look not in the prairies but the sea. Within the salty brine are algae. These microorganisms, once believed to be primordial plant species, are nutrient-making machines. They are known to produce high levels of antioxidants and also a variety of essential fatty acids. Some companies have even seen their algal-derived products make it to market. But extraction may not be the only benefit behind these waterborne creatures. The use of the entire organism as a food source has been suggested for decades. Back in the 1960s, trials of algae-based diets revealed the idea wasn’t all that bad. They were nutritious, provided all the right dietary ingredients. Their bitterness shocked at first, but was eventually tolerated. Little has been done in the last five decades as there have been few reasons to explore this option. But the decline in corn has once again raised the algae idea. This time, however, the target isn’t humans but livestock. The use of algae in feed has been tested sporadically with fairly good results. In cattle, algae helped to increase the level of essential fatty acids in milk. Insheep, overall health improved. Even chickens seem to gain some benefit from algae in their feed. The idea has become so popular there is a push to develop policies for their inclusion in all forms of agriculture. Despite the overall improvement of animal health, algae have traditionally been seen as a supplement rather than a major constituent. But that may change thanks to an American team of researchers. Earlier this year, they published a study in which they used algae as a replacement for corn. The results showed these microorganisms may one day help to improve food security by keeping corn out of animal feed and keeping it solely for humans. The algal mass was mixed with soy hulls and hay to make an appetizing mix for the steers. The group tested varying concentrations of the algal supplement in combination with lower levels of corn or wet gluten from corn (a byproduct of distillation). In the most extreme condition, the algal mass was 45% of the feed with corn being only 16%. In the gluten experiment, the ratio of algae to the wet mass was 45% to 35%. At first, the team conducted experiments in the lab to determine whether the new diet would be actually digestible. It was. This allowed them to continue the experiments with the steers. They tested a variety of factors including actual dry mass consumed including crude protein and fiber levels as well as daily weight gain. The experiments revealed the animals didn’t mind algae but they have their limits. When the algal concentration was 30%, they ate it up readily. When the concentration was 45%, however, they were less likely to choose the meal. This wasn’t a hit on the algae but rather how it was made. In this study, the algal mass was dried and de-oiled, making it very dry. For the steers, this might have been a little too dry for their tastes. By adding water to the mix, the amount of food consumed increased. In the gluten experiments, because moisture was already present, this dietary preference wasn’t observed. As for the nutritional value, weight gain was comparable to corn save for the 45% algae option. In this case, the animals did better than those fed solely corn. The most benefit from the algae came when it was mixed with the wet gluten. This suggests the two could work together to improve nutrition for the animals. The authors suggested the results of this study offer a viable option for reducing if not eliminating raw corn usage in feeds. The results show steers can do quite well with algae and the waste from corn distillation. This could help to reduce the strain on corn supplies and leave the raw food for more human purposes. http://www.popsci.com/farm-algae-may-be-new-corn

Food from Spirulina Project Concludes

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20.08.15

Arthrospira platensis was literally on the tip of everyone’s tongue last week when approximately 600 students from Sweden, Belgium and Greece participated in a multi-site in-flight call with ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti. Spirulina Project 1 Since the end of last year, schools throughout Europe signed up for the ‘Food from Spirulina’ biological experiment, which called upon students aged 14 to 16 to perform an experiment on cyanobacteria Arthrospira platensis, also known as Spirulina. As part of Samantha Cristoforetti’s education and outreach programme, ESA education in collaboration with ESA scientists developed an experimental kit to be used in the classroom which focussed on the fundamentals of cutting edge research in the 25 year old ‘Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative’ programme (MELiSSA). If humans are to venture further into space, alternative systems which bypass the necessity for resupply cargo vehicles from Earth will need to be implemented. One solution being worked on, is the focus of the MELiSSA programme scientists who are aiming to define a complete ecosystem capable of replenishing oxygen, food and water for the crew. Spirulina was identified as the ideal symbiont for such life supporting ecosystems not only for it’s ability to recycle exhaled CO2 into fresh O2 via photosynthesis but also due to it’s spectacular nutritious properties - low in DNA content, presence of all essential amino acids and a multitude of vitamins. Spirulina is commonly found in food stores and often sold as a ‘Super Food’ supplement. Spirulina Project 2 Inflight call with the International Space Station In an attempt to bring cutting-edge space research and science into the classroom, ESA education office commissioned 1000 kits to be delivered to schools throughout ESA member states on a first-come, first-served basis. The kits were distributed early March and by early April several thousand students were writing up their reports, which - while the data is still being analysed by ESA education office - seems to have generated well over 80% success rate and clear O2 production in the samples the students exhaled into whilst the controls slowly withered away due to a lack of carbon sources. The experiment thus demonstrated one of the principles of the MELiSSA programme and helped the students understand that the content of their lessons are more than ever relevant to real research and science at the forefront of space exploration. For a few lucky students who participated in the experiment, ESA organised an in flight call with Samantha Cristoforetti. Borlange Framtidsmuseet in Sweden, SCK-CEN in Mol, Belgium and University of Crete in Heraklion were chosen to host hundreds of students for a day full of various space related experiments, activities and scientific lectures. As always with a live connection to the International Space Station, the atmosphere was electric and the ability for some 15 students to ask our crew member in space their question was an unforgettable experience. Spirulina Project 3 Healthy Spirulina-based muffins All the students taking part in the day managed to have a taste of the celebrity of the day, Spirulina, whether it be in Swedish smoothies, Belgian waffles or space-qualified muesli bars, the students all went home with a satisfied appetite for science. “The experience exceeded my expectations! I was fully satisfied with Samantha’s answers to all of our questions. I was also impressed of how friendly, warm, approachable and happy Samantha was”, Giorgos Aggelakis. Christine Wintzer Science teacher from Ecole Europeene Bruxelles II said “This project has enabled my students to participate in the world of space and that of scientific research! What could possibly better to bring out scientific vocations.” Jenny Jannson a Swedish teacher from Ludvika said " I have never seen my students so engaged! Their eyes full of the magic of science! A once in a life time experience!" Source: http://www.esa.int/Education/Teachers_Corner/Food_from_Spirulina_project_concludes

Energy Deptartment Foresees Algae Biofuel in your Future

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17.08.15

algae-biofuel-US-DOE

Fleet managers casting about for clean alternatives to petroleum may have more options in the near future. The Obama administration has been supporting algae biofuel research and development through the departments of Energy, Agriculture and Defense, and it looks like those efforts are beginning to pay off. Although algae is still barely a blip on the alternative fuel screen, last week the Department of Energy offered a laundry list of reasons why algae biofuel could — and should — be ready to compete with fossil fuels and other biofuels, too.

In praise of algae biofuel

Algae represents a giant step forward in the field of biofuel, especially compared to food-based alternatives such as corn ethanol. One of the main drawbacks of food-based biofuels is that they suck up agricultural resources that face increasing stress from the twin whammies of population growth and climate change. In contrast, algae can be grown in environments where food cannot be grown. Man-made ponds, brackish water and wastewater are the examples cited by the DOE. That advantage also provides algae biofuel with the potential to introduce new commercial activity into communities. Texas A&M University, for example, is deeply involved in algae biofuel research, and it recognizes economic as well as environmental benefits: “With its high oil content algae is ideal for producing biodiesel and jet fuel, and it can be cultivated in brackish water on land unsuitable for growing food … Commercial microalgae farms in west Texas would generate jobs and enhance economic growth. Co-products from algae biofuels production show potential as a protein supplement in cattle feed or as a source of nitrogen fertilizer. This makes algae for fuel more economically sustainable.” The Energy Department’s algae biofuel article is a quick read, but for those of you who need things even quicker, here’s the breakdown. When the DOE talks algae, it’s not talking about something that resembles seaweed or other water plants. It’s talking about micro-scale organisms, aka “microscopic green machines,” which harvest solar energy and store it in the form of oil. The agency sees progress in the following areas:
  1. Engineering and/or finding natural strains of algae that can maximize oil production.
  2. Developing efficient methods for growing and harvesting algae, then dewatering and concentrating algae material for refining.
  3. Transitioning from demonstration-scale operations to commercial scale.
If you still don’t have time to look over the DOE article, the department also offers a brief Energy 101 Algae-to-Fuel video (2.5 minutes) to catch you up on the latest news.

Algae biofuel companies not sitting on their hands…

The signs of progress are all well and good, but for the here and now algae biofuel companies have to find ways to hang on until they can achieve a profitable operation. That means finding other ways to put algae to work, and on that score we’ve been following two algae companies that provide different examples of that approach. One is the company OriginClear, which TriplePundit has covered under its former name,OriginOil. OriginClear’s latest development, announced last month, is a pure algae concentrate that could reduce the use of conventional fertilizer. The announcement was based on the results of field tests in Texas with OriginClear’s partner company, AlgEternal, which is working with Texas A&M, among others, to provide third-party confirmation. Another algae biofuel company familiar to TriplePundit readers is Solazyme. Working with global chemicals manufacturer BASF, last week Solazyme announced the development of the first commercial surfactant based on algae oil. The new product, marketed by BASF under the name Dehyton AO 45, acts as a foaming agent in personal care and household products such as shampoos, among other uses. The bottom line: While fleet managers are turning to compressed natural gas (CNG) for a cleaner-burning fuel in the short term, fossil gas as a source is highly problematic, and algae biofuel presents a more sustainable long-term solution. Source: http://www.triplepundit.com/2015/08/energy-dept-foresees-algae-biofuel-in-your-future/

Identifying pathways in algae that produce oil without killing them

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15.08.15

Chlamydomonas reinhardtii under nitrogen starvation

While most people might know some algae as "pond scum," to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), they are tiny organisms that could provide a source of sustainable fuels. Like plants, they can convert light into energy-rich chemical compounds; unlike plants, they require less space and don't need arable soil to grow. Some algae like Chlamydomonas reinhardtii (or "Chlamy," as it's known to its large research community) produce energy-dense oils or lipids when stressed, and these lipids can then be converted into fuels. However, researchers walk a fine line in not killing the goose that lays the golden eggs, in this case, stressing the algae just enough to produce lipids, but not enough to kill them. Published ahead online July 27, 2015 in the journal Nature Plants, a team led by scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI), a DOE Office of Science User Facility, analyzed the genes that are being activated during algal lipid production, and in particular the molecular machinery that orchestrates these gene activities inside the cell when it produces lipids. "We know how to stress the algae," said the study's first author Chew Yee Ngan of the DOE JGI. "What we don't know is how to keep the algae alive at the same time, until now." Stressful searches As part of the DOE Office of Science's efforts to study algae for energy and environmental applications, the DOE JGI has published over 75 percent of all publicly available algal genomes. One of these is the Chlamy reference genome, which was released back in 2007. Until now, very little is known about the protein factor that can regulate lipid production. To find more of them, the team cultured Chlamy cells and starved them of nitrogen or sulfur, both of which are stress conditions to which Chlamy responds by producing lipids. They then analyzed the complex of DNA and proteins known as chromatin that define what genes are being activated, as well as the expression profiles or transcriptome, and compared these to non-stressed Chlamy cells. "We're looking for changes in starved cells vs. cells that are happily growing," Ngan explained. Through careful analysis of genome-wide data sets, they narrowed down their search to identify two transcription factors that appeared to play a pivotal role in lipid accumulation, and then studied one of them, PSR1, in detail. "In studying the chromatin modifications, we can read out changes in the proteins bound to DNA on a genome-wide scale and then specifically target those genes whose regulation profiles are changed under lipid-producing conditions." "The study also demonstrated how cells can be tricked into producing lots of lipid without dying of starvation by overexpression of PSR1, which is a strategy that could potentially be applied in other industrial algal species better suited for large-scale biofuel production," said study co-author Axel Visel, DOE JGI Deputy for Science Programs. Adding genomic technologies to the arsenal While the work is expected to help algal bioenergy researchers develop more targeted approaches for producing lipids for fuels, corresponding author Chia-Lin Wei, head of DOE JGI's Sequencing Technologies Program, also pointed out that this study also successfully demonstrated an effective strategy for the integration of epigenomic and gene expression data, methods, i.e. the mapping of molecular tags that sit on top of the actual DNA sequence and affect its function, in an organism relevant to DOE missions in energy and environment. "Such functional interrogation of the genomes, as part of the JGI's 10-Year Strategic Vision, is expected to be widely applicable to more plants and fungi whose gene regulatory pathways still prove elusive," Wei said, adding that Ngan and others at the DOE JGI are continuing this work in many other energy-related species. Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2015-08-pathways-algae-oil.html#jCp  

How does Spirulina differ from Chlorella?

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14.08.15

Spirulina-chlorella

When it comes to picking the best nutritional supplement available, many people tend to ask, “How does Spirulina differ from Chlorella and other blue-green algae?” Granted, both are incredibly powerful superfoods that can benefit anyone who takes them as part of their daily health regimen, but spirulina and chlorella are definitely two different varieties of a similar type of microalgae.

Physical Differences Between Spirulina and Chlorella

Spirulina and chlorella are very similar in the fact that they are both types of micro-algae, but whereas spirulina is a spiral-shaped, multi-celled algae with no true nucleus, chlorella is a spherical-shaped single-celled algae with a nucleus. Spirulina can sometimes be up to 100-times larger than chlorella. In addition, while spirulina is a blue-green form of algae, chlorella is a solid green-colored form of algae.

Cultivation Differences Between Spirulina and Chlorella

Spirulina tends to grow best in fresh water ponds, rivers, and lakes that have a relatively high alkaline content. Moderate temperatures and abundant sunshine are required in order to produce exemplary crops. In most natural environments, the waters where spirulina flourishes is usually home to very few other organisms, so harvesting the crop is easier. Meanwhile, chlorella, which is also grown in fresh water, tends to occupy water with other organisms due to its microscopic size, making it much more difficult to harvest and cultivate. Spirulina-chlorella 2             Chlorella is also traditionally more difficult to process than spirulina, due to the fact that it has an indigestible cellulose wall. Therefore, chlorella requires processing before it can be made available for human consumption. It first has to undergo a complex process in order to mechanically break the cellulose wall. If the cellulose wall isn’t broken, then the body won’t be able to digest it. This process is not only complex, but it requires expensive equipment to perform. Therefore, the cost of the product is ultimately significantly higher. Spirulina-chorella 3           In comparison, spirulina has a perfectly digestible cellulose wall, therefore it is readily available for consumption, and immediately digested and absorbed when taken.

Nutritional Differences Between Spirulina and Chlorella

Both spirulina and chlorella are classified as superfoods, so they are both among the richest nutrient sources on the planet. But, spirulina has a higher percentage of protein and iron, as well as all eight essential amino acids; potassium; zinc; calcium; vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and B-12. Spirulina also has a higher percentage of beta-carotene, while chlorella has a greater level of chlorophyll (due to its dark green color).

Additional Differences Between Spirulina, Chlorella, and Other Blue-Green Algae

  • Spirulina is easier on the digestive system than chlorella and other types of blue-green algae
  • Spirulina offers the highest level of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a “good fat” that is vital for the health and function of the brain, heart, and other body organs and systems
While both spirulina and chlorella each exhibit incredible health benefits when taken as part of a daily diet, it is clear that due to a significantly higher level of beneficial nutrients and a host of other reasons, spirulina is easily superior to chlorella, and all other types of blue-green algae. Source: http://news.algaeworld.org/2015/07/how-does-spirulina-differ-from-chlorella/  

NEW SUN-BLOCKING MATERIAL USES COMPOUNDS FROM ALGAE AND FISH

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12.08.15

Algae sunscreen 2 Researchers have used compounds found in algae and reef fish mucus to create a material that naturally blocks harmful UV rays, according to a paper published recently in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces. The sunscreen you buy at your local pharmacy contains ingredients to block two different types of light from the sun—UV-A, which has longer wavelengths and can cause cancer over time, and UV-B, with shorter wavelengths that cause sunburns. But there are concerns about some of the chemicals in commercial sunscreens, which may disrupt some of the body's more delicate systems if they find their way inside. But there’s a natural compound that blocks both types of UV rays, called mycosporines. Mycosporines absorb both types of light, and would be safe if ingested. Researchers have wanted to use mycosporines in sunblock for more than a decade, but they weren’t so easy to fix in place—when scientists put them in a liquid sunscreen for people to put on their skin, the mycosporines would smear and dribble away so that they were largely ineffective. Now researchers have figured out how to fix mycosporines in place by putting them around a polymer scaffolding—for this experiment, they used chitosan, a material derived from shrimp and crab shells and found in a huge range of commercial products, but plenty of other polymers would work just as well, they note. The material could absorb UV-B rays 192 percent more effectively than most commercial sunscreens, and the film was stable after 12 hours of sun exposure or temperatures up to 176 degrees Fahrenheit. These qualities make the material a good candidate for a range of applications on biological and nonbiological materials. Most immediately, the film could be used in clothes and outdoor furniture, both of which can be damaged by too much sun exposure. Presumably the researchers would hope to reach the biggest possible market with a biocompatible sunscreen: human skin. Though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been slow to approve new sunscreens in the past, Chemical and Engineering News notes, a sunscreen made from mycosporines might be easier to approve because its sun-blocking components are all found in nature. Source: http://www.popsci.com/new-sun-blocking-material-uses-compounds-algae-and-fish  

Sustainable oil from algae: the technology is ready, but what about the politics?

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11.08.15

…when we talk about algae biofuel, we mean the green, renewable and sustainable version, rather than traditional fossil crude oil. The main requirements for making algae biofuel are: lots of sunlight, plenty of space, and easy access to the sea. Australia is an algae gardener’s paradise. To scale up any new technology, we need to consider not just whether we can make it, but also whether it is worth doing. Unfortunately, this involves rather dry concepts like productivity, efficiency, energy balance, and supply chain dynamics. These are critical to the development of business models for new technologies, but sadly they don’t translate easily into language that politicians are interested in. In the absence of a benevolent billionaire, the private sector is unlikely to take on the risks involved in bringing these emerging technologies to scale. This means that some form of government support is critical. With renewable energy investment growing ever more politically contentious, what are the incentives for spending scarce taxpayer dollars on something like this?

Growth industry?

In our recent study, we put algae biofuels under the cost-benefit microscope, to assess the viability of developing a full-scale algae biofuel industry in Australia. We used a technique called hybrid life-cycle assessment (LCA), which aims to evaluate all of the effects throughout the myriad supply chains of an industry – even one as huge and complicated as the oil industry. The results are striking: a large-scale algae biofuel production facility would create almost 13,000 new jobs and A$4 billion worth of economic stimulus in Australia. It would generate a total economic stimulus of 77 cents for every dollar invested, compared with just 13 cents in the dollar for traditional crude oil exploration and extraction (see table 1 in our paper). Commercial algae biofuel production is now a challenge of scale. The prize is phenomenal. Algae ponds covering an area the size of Sydney could satisfy the entire crude oil demand of Australia, which would do wonders for both sustainability and security of supply – currently, 82% of crude oil is imported. Pink Productivity the worlds largest algae farm           Pink productivity: the world’s largest algae farm. Steve Back Image. We know that large-scale algae cultivation is achievable. The largest algae facility in the world is at Hutt Lagoon in Western Australia, where 740 hectares of algae ponds are used to produce the food supplement beta-carotene. Meanwhile, the US federal government has been backing various large-scale algae projects, including Sapphire Energy’s expansion plans in New Mexico. However, the technological risks are significant, which is where hybrid LCA comes in.

Crunching the numbers

We used hybrid LCA to established a hypothetical case for assessing the viability of algae biofuel production in Australia. First, we identified a rural region in WA with the attributes needed to sustain an algae biofuel industry. Next, we used cloud computing to develop a hybrid LCA model for this region. For the first time, we integrated multi-regional economic input-output data for Australia with engineering process data on algae biofuels. This allowed us to quantify comprehensively the employment, economic stimulus, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of the algae biofuel supply chain, not just at the site itself, but throughout the supply chain. Our analysis shows that algae biofuel facilities would create local rural jobs, while also activating sectors of the broader economy associated with equipment, trade and business services. Then there is the environmental benefit: our study shows that the combustion of 1 tonne of algae oil instead of traditional crude oil would prevent the emission of 1.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Investing in algae biofuel production is environmentally, economically and socially sustainable, and will provide a much-needed stimulus to the economy while creating much-needed quality jobs in rural areas. Surely every politician would be persuaded by at least something on this list.

Israeli scientists explore algae as biofuel producer

Posted by Algix in In the news | 0 comments

10.08.15

New research shows that growing and producing bioethanol from algae of the species sea lettuce has potential but is not currently viable economically.

New Israeli research has shown that growing and producing bioethanol from algae of the species sea lettuce has great potential. However, the study has found that it is currently not economically viable. The global energy industry is constantly looking for renewable and environmentally friendly energy sources. Among the proposed solutions, fuel production from plant material has been marked as having a high potential. Plants are "primary producers", that is, they are able to harness the sun's energy and amass carbon dioxide to produce sugars and fats that make up tissues. Plant material can produce biodiesel or bio-ethanol, which can be used as a substitute for fossil fuels. In the last few decades there has been a rapid development in the pace of fuel manufacturing from plants, and at the beginning of the decade production was close to two million barrels per day. On the other hand, extensive growing areas needed for growing the plants come at the expense of producing food crops and also the economic profitability of the growth process and gas production is often marginal or such that it relies heavily on government subsidies. Israel Biofuel 1             New research at Tel Aviv University, which has just recently been completed, wanted to check if innovative methods of producing energy from algae are not only technically feasible but also economically sensible.

Energy, food and detoxification

The advantages of growing algae as a plant alternative to produce energy include a fast growth rate, a simple production process and the utilization of habitats not used for food agriculture. Already in the 1950s the United States invested in research to improve the growth of algae to produce energy, but later it lost popularity following the changes in the energy market and limited success in growing algea. However, in recent years, algae growth for energy is making a comeback due to growing awareness of the environmental implications of fossil fuel use and the fear of future instability of fuel sources currently used. At the same time technological innovations that allow the development of species of algae richer in fats and sugars, as well as methods for their production, may make the dream economically worthwhile. Despite algae's potential, it seems that the price of biofuels is currently too expensive to compete with fossil fuels, due to manufacture and production costs. For example, the cost of production of biodiesel from algae is currently estimated at seven dollars per gallon, double the price of regular gasoline. Therefore, it is necessary to find additional applications to accompany the algae-growing process and plant material produced and to make growth profitable. For example, an increase in marine algae, which contain organic material may help to clean seawater where the marine environment is polluted as a result of enrichment with organic matter. An example is the marine environment in the vicinity of fish farms, where large quantities of food and fish secretions flow into the sea, leading to its pollution. Another possible source of income is the utilization of remaining plant material after ethanol production in the food industry for livestock and fish in particular.

Coming full circle

Research at the National Institute of Oceanography in collaboration with Tel Aviv University and Bar Ilan University examined different stages in growing and producing bioethanol from algae of the species sea lettuce (Ulva). The study was led by Lior Korzen as part of his doctoral work. Among his academic advisors were experts in various scientific fields: Prof. Avigdor Abelson of Tel Aviv University who specializes in marine ecology, and Prof. Israel Alvaro of the National Institute of Oceanography who specializes in algae. Korzen bred algae near a sea bream commercial farm located in Mikhmoret on the Mediterrranean coast near Netanya. The algae were connected to net baskets that prevent their being swept away and that allow exposure to light and nutrients from water currents. "The growth focused on the Ulva genus of algae as we saw that it was a more efficient producer of sugar compared to other algae examined, and because you can grow it during most of the year," said Korzen. During the field work it was discovered that algae that grew downstream from fish cages located in Mikhmoret enjoy water enriched with organic matter and show a faster growth rate of 27 to 40 times compared with algae placed upstream from the commercial fish farm. As mentioned above, the profit of such growth is twofold: on the one hand increased growth rate and on the other hand, water cleaning. "The idea is to provide a solution to a problem that exists and will worsen with time, marine pollution due to acquaculture . Ulva serves successfully as a bio-filter for contaminated water," explained Korzen. The next challenge lies in producing ethanol. This process involves the breakdown of complex sugars such as starch into simple sugars such as glucose. Then, through the process of fermentation ethanol is produced. Korzen, guided by Professor Aharon Gedanken, developed a method in which the breakdown of complex sugars is done in conjunction with the sonication process, during which the products are often exposed to frequencies. Results showed that this method has an advantage in expediting the breakdown process.  

The bottom line

After studying the methods of optimal growth and improvement of the production process, Korzen turned to developing the economic model that examines the profitability of the endeavor . The aim was to examine how the volume of production and market forces affect the profitability of growing Ulva. The model included the cost of the construction and maintenance of the growth system as well as harvest costs and transportation to the production site. To this was added to the price of the production process and manufacturing the end products. The revenues that were taken into account in the model included the compensation to be received for the bio-ethanol produced in the process, and the vegetal sonication which is supposed to help in the production of food. The model results showed that given the prevailing market conditions and current growth, profitability is achieved only if there is a huge amount produced. Maximum profitability - almost 20 million euros for a period of 15 years of activity - can be achieved when the area of growth reaches 2,500 hectares. By comparison, according to future plans prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture, the area allocated to aquaculture in Israel is about 600 hectares. Therefore, in such a limited area, the model predicts a negative return of around 13 million euros for a similar period. It seems, therefore, that an increase in trade of seaweed to energy is not worth existing conditions in Israel today. However, a similar economic model may be appropriate for areas where available space larger growth. Former cites the example of the work done in China where marine farms covering an area of one million hectares. Read more at: http:...www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4686617,00.html

Soylent 2.0 is bottled, ready to drink, and made from algae

Posted by Algix in In the news | 0 comments

07.08.15

Soylent Soylent, the oddly named meal replacement with a niche following (particularly in the Valley) has announced its second product this morning: Soylent 2.0, which comes ready to drink in recyclable bottles. Each bottle represents one-fifth of a daily meal plan. Twelve bottles will sell for $29 when they go on sale in October; preorders go live today. Just like the original, it'll only be sold online, at least for the moment. Traditionally, Soylent has been sold in powder form with the idea that the user would add water at their home, making as much as a full day's ration at once — it's cheaper and more efficient to produce and ship it that way. As a product, Soylent has always been about efficiency — so I asked its creator, Rob Rhinehart, why they were moving to a less efficient approach. "Shipping around water is a little inefficient," he acknowledged. "However, we counter that by the fact that the drink does not require refrigeration and also does not spoil until at least one year. Given the amount of food that is thrown away, that spoils, and the unconscionable amount of energy that we spend on refrigeration in the United States, I think that it's still a vast resource savings over the majority of the food system." "SHIPPING AROUND WATER IS A LITTLE INEFFICIENT." Soylent 2.0 will undoubtedly appeal to current Soylent users as a new grab-and-go option, but the company seems hopeful that this will also expand Soylent's addressable base, perhaps among those who only want to use Soylent every once in a while to bridge a missed breakfast or lunch, or those who can't be bothered with the mess and trouble of preparing it from powder. Soylent and the company behind it, Rosa Labs, are venture-backed with funding from Andreessen Horowitz and Lerer Ventures. Rhinehart says that they had shipped 6.25 million meals at their last count, which works out to around 1.56 million bags of the powdered product. But once Soylent is pre-sold in a bottle, it starts to look a lot like existing meal replacement products — Ensure, for instance. Rhinehart disagrees: "It's really designed in a much different fashion," he says, noting that Soylent 2.0 will be processed using a newer method than the so-called retort sterilization employed by most drinks. He also blasts their nutritional value. "They're really not sustainable. I mean, they're loaded with sugar, they're just way too sweet, and they don't really have the macronutrient balance or the glycemic index that I would feel comfortable sustaining myself on or a user on." Rhinehart also boasts of Soylent 2.0's caloric bang-for-your-buck, but it's actually neck-and-neck with Ensure, depending on how you look at it. Soylent works out to about $2.42 per 400-calorie bottle, or $12.08 to meet your entire day's nutritional needs. Amazon will sell you 16 bottles of Ensure for $19.97 — $1.25 per bottle — but you'd have to drink nine of them to get 2,000 calories, and some of the nutritional requirements would still be out of whack, whereas Soylent 2.0 is designed so the numbers work out evenly. (Also, drinking nine of anything per day sounds horrible.) The pricing is surprisingly competitive with Soylent 1.5 — the bagged powder, which will continue as a separate product — at around $9.11 per day, if you buy it four weeks at a time in a subscription plan. "WE DID END UP CHANGING THE FORMULA A LITTLE BIT." The most interesting thing about 2.0, though, might be where the calories come from. For the first time, Rhinehart's team is using algae in a significant way, incorporating algal oil for a full half of its fat content. Does that affect the flavor? "We did end up changing the formula a little bit," Rhinehart says. He describes the taste as "somewhat recognizable" to current users, calling it "neutral, but still pleasant." (The company has recently hired a flavor scientist, he notes.) He's been hinting that he wants to use algae to make Soylent for quite some time, citing higher efficiency and the lack of need for traditional agriculture techniques; 2.0 is a start, but the powder will eventually be reformulated to incorporate it as well. And is Rhinehart — a well-documented nutritional experimenter — using 2.0 himself? "I've largely switched to the drink," he says. "Actually, I got rid of my refrigerator, and the problem with the powder is you need to keep the pitcher in the refrigerator."

Read more at: http://www.theverge.com/2015/8/3/9088407/soylent-20-bottled-ready-to-drink-meal-replacement