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Boost to microalgae health supplements

Microalgae are a great source of antioxidants, vitamins, and fatty acids. With a low environmental footprint, they could form part of the answer to providing an ever growing world population with essential nutrients.

Microalgae have a large range of applications in both nutri- and pharmaceuticals, in particular as an omega-3 fatty acid supplement. Omega-3 plays an important role in preventing obesity, diabetes and fatty liver disease and can assist wound healing. 

Today most omega-3 supplements are fish- or krill-oil based. Microalgae, from which fish obtain their omega-3, is much cheaper and easier to cultivate, does not have fish-based contaminants such as polychlorinated biphenyls, and is also vegetarian and vegan friendly. However, its widespread uptake as a source of omega-3 has been hampered by a lack of techniques that can easily measure its fatty acid content, making it difficult to monitor and optimise as a product.

Now, a research team at Flinders University has developed a stable fluorescent bioprobe that specifically binds to fats. When viewed on a confocal microscope, it allows for easy monitoring of fats within the microalgae. At Microscopy Australia’s Flinders University facility, the team, led by Mohsinul Reza under the supervision of Profs Jian Qin and Youhong Tang, was able to use the technique to determine the optimal growing conditions to maximise fat production in a species of microalgae called Euglena gracilis.

The new monitoring technique is quick, easy, cheaper to make, and more accurate than existing options. It will allow companies to screen different algae types for fatty acid production potential and optimise growing conditions for creating renewable, eco-friendly health supplements.

A. M. Reza et al., Materials Chemistry Frontiers 2021 DOI: 10.1039/D0QM00621A

Brightfield image of microalgae cells highlighting different components including lipids (yellow).