Researchers from the University of Cologne have developed a new procedure for farming microalgae. Scientists believe that microalgae are important for the future of biotechnology but previous culturing methods were difficult and costly. A new study, just published in the Trends in Biotechnology journal, details their new strategy for producing microalgae at a low cost.
Microalgae can be used in many different ways. They are nutrient-dense, containing protein, carbohydrates, and various vitamins and minerals without a high fat content. Different species of microalgae contain pigments, including beta-carotene, chlorophyll, astaxanthin, xanthophylls, and phycobiliproteins. These pigments can be extracted and used as natural coloring agents. Some microalgae contain useful substances for pharmaceutical applications, such as chemicals with antiviral or anticancer properties. They can also be a good source of polyunsaturated fatty acids, normally found in fish oil. Microalgae have also been used to generate energy and remove pollutants from water sources.
In the past, it was impractical to culture microalgae on a large scale. The operations required a ton of water, making the process cost-prohibitive. The researchers came up with a solution using porous substrate bioreactors, or PSBRs. PSBRs have a porous reactor surface that captures microalgae in biofilms, allowing easy separation from the nutrient solution. This method requires far less water than traditional methods and costs less money to operate.
Microalgae may be the future of biotechnology. They contain pigments, nutrients, and other useful substances that can be extracted for commercial and pharmaceutical purposes. Microalgae can also be used to absorb pollutants, such as nitrogen and phosphorous, from water and sewage. Culturing microalgae had previously required large amounts of water, making the process expensive and impractical. A new method, utilizing porous substrate bioreactor technology, is much more feasible because it uses significantly less water. The authors hope that future studies will work on scaling this technology up for use in large commercial operations.
Björn Podola et al. Porous Substrate Bioreactors: A Paradigm Shift in Microalgal Biotechnology?. Trends in Biotechnology (2016).