Algal genetic optimization breakthrough could boost omega-3 offerings

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Omega-3 fatty acid, Fatty acid

Algal genetic optimization breakthrough could boost omega-3 offerings
A breakthrough in the genetic optimization of algae could expand the supply of omega-3 fatty acids, according to newly published research from UC Berkeley and Aurora Algae.

The new technique has the potential to “rapidly advance algal functional genomics and biotechnology”​, according to a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences​ (PNAS).

“The technology is a targeted manner to modify the lipid profile of the organism,”​ Dr Bertrand Vick, chief scientific officer and co-founder of Aurora Algae, told NutraIngredients-USA. “It’s non-GMO. It merely taking the traits the organism already has and optimizing them.”

The Aurora work has focused on Nannochloropsis​, a fast-growing, unicellular alga capable of accumulating large amounts of oil.

“We have made rapid progress in developing molecular tools for the optimization of Nannochloropsis,”​ he said.

“One recent success was the development of a non-transgenic strain of algae with an altered lipid profile having a higher proportion of EPA, the valuable omega-3 essential fatty acid.

“This new strain will be extremely valuable in expanding the supply of omega-3s for the global pharmaceutical, food and dietary supplement industries, without reliance on limited fish stocks or expensive fermentation systems. Our ability to produce omega-3s in open pond systems will completely disrupt the industry.”

Product range

The company announced the launch of its A2 product portfolio earlier this year, a range that included protein-rich powder and a ‘game changing’ sustainable EPA-rich omega-3 oil.

Speaking to NutraIngredients-USA in April​, Leslie van der Meulen, vice president of business development for Aurora Algae, explained that the company can produce a vegetarian food source and renewable biofuel products, year-round with a single crop.

The A2 portfolio is comprised of four categories, including omega-3 and the A2 EPA Pure product, as well as protein products for food and beverages, algae-derived biofuel, and a family of protein-rich algal grains for feed, mostly aquaculture.

Speaking to NutraIngredients-USA yesterday, van der Meulen said that the company is now “introducing a second generation technology that will allow us to maximize potential productivity”​.

The development timescale is about 6 months, they said, from the lab bench to the open pond.

Demand is high for the company’s current product and van der Meulen says that “whatever we can produce we can sell”​.

New technology and implications for genetics

The technology (an application of homologous recombination – a powerful and efficient strain development tool – to Nannochloropsis​) was described as a game changer for the company, because it can vastly speed up research cycles; reduce the time and costs associated with studying biosynthetic pathways and subsequent manipulation of those pathways.

The paper in PNAS has implications beyond the nutrition sector to pharmaceuticals, renewable energy, animal feed, and to genetic researchers in general, said Dr Vick. “We’ve already received many requests from researchers on this. This means a lot to the scientific community in general.”

“Definitely there are algae-based labs that will shift their focus to​ Nannochloropsis”.

Look at ancestral corn, said Vick, which is little more than a weed with little kernels. Human intervention has led to modern maize, and we will see a similar transformation with algae.

“The potential is difficult to imagine,”​ he said.

Source: PNAS
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1105861108
“High-efficiency homologous recombination in the oil-producing alga Nannochloropsis sp,”
Authors: O. Kilian, C.S.E. Benemann, K.K. Niyogi, B. Vick

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