Boosting Algae Growth and Healthy Fats Using Filtered Whey

Jim Crocker
21st June, 2024

Boosting Algae Growth and Healthy Fats Using Filtered Whey

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • The study from University College Dublin explored using nano-filtered whey permeate (WP), a dairy by-product, to grow the microalga Nannochloropsis oceanica
  • N. oceanica efficiently removed 100% of nitrate, 87% of protein, and 74% of phosphate from WP, despite its nitrogen limitations
  • The biomass produced on WP was rich in saturated fatty acids and contained 16% of the valuable omega-3 fatty acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
Nano-filtered whey permeate (WP), a major by-product of the dairy industry, is produced by membrane filtration of whey. This by-product is often considered waste, but recent research from University College Dublin has demonstrated its potential as a growth medium for the oleaginous microalga Nannochloropsis oceanica[1]. This study explores the cultivation of N. oceanica on WP without the need for salinity and nutrient amendments, presenting a sustainable approach to both waste management and the production of valuable fatty acids. The research team focused on analyzing the growth, cell characteristics, and fatty acid profile of N. oceanica cultures grown on WP. They used microscopy, flow cytometry, and gas chromatography (GC) to conduct these analyses. One of the key findings was that WP is nitrogen-limited, primarily containing protein as a nitrogen source with only small amounts of free inorganic nitrogen (nitrate). Despite this limitation, N. oceanica and associated bacteria were able to efficiently remove nitrate (100%), protein (87%), and phosphate (74%) from the WP. The study revealed diverse cell size distributions in WP cultures, with significant cell aggregation attributed to low-salinity acclimatization and nitrogen limitation. Autofluorescence analysis indicated reduced photosynthetic activity in cells grown on WP, likely due to increased mixotrophic activities on the carbon source present in the medium. Mixotrophy refers to the ability of an organism to utilize both organic and inorganic carbon sources for growth, which is advantageous in nutrient-limited environments. Interestingly, the low nitrogen availability in WP resulted in biomass with a fatty acid profile enriched in saturated fatty acids. Despite this, a significant level of the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), was detected at approximately 16% of total fatty acids. This finding is particularly noteworthy given the health benefits associated with EPA, including improved brain function and cardiovascular health[2]. The results of this study align with previous research on the cultivation of microalgae for lipid production and wastewater remediation. For instance, a study on the integration of phyco-remediation and enhanced lipid productivity using a microalgae-bacterial consortium enriched from wastewater-fed aquaculture ponds showed significant nutrient removal and biomass enhancement[3]. Similarly, another study demonstrated the potential of poly-microalgae cultures for the remediation of dairy wastewater and biodiesel feedstock production[4]. These studies collectively highlight the dual benefits of using wastewater as a nutrient source for microalgae cultivation: effective waste treatment and the generation of valuable bio-products. Furthermore, the current study builds on earlier findings regarding the cultivation of Nannochloropsis oceanica in different media. For example, previous research demonstrated that N. oceanica could be grown in deep-sea water-based medium, achieving high EPA content and biomass concentration[5]. The current study extends this by showing that WP, an industrial by-product, can also serve as a viable medium for N. oceanica cultivation without additional nutrient or salinity adjustments. This not only reduces the cost of cultivation but also addresses the issue of dairy industry waste management. In conclusion, the research from University College Dublin presents a promising approach to utilizing nano-filtered whey permeate for the cultivation of Nannochloropsis oceanica. The study highlights the potential for sustainable waste management and the production of valuable omega-3 fatty acids, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid, which has significant health benefits. By integrating findings from previous studies, this research underscores the feasibility and advantages of using industrial by-products and wastewater for microalgae cultivation, paving the way for more sustainable and eco-friendly biotechnological applications.

SustainabilityBiochemMarine Biology


Main Study

1) Growth and fatty acid profile of Nannochloropsis oceanica cultivated on nano-filtered whey permeate

Published 20th June, 2024

Related Studies

2) Towards sustainable sources for omega-3 fatty acids production.

3) An eco-friendly strategy for dairy wastewater remediation with high lipid microalgae-bacterial biomass production.

4) An approach for dairy wastewater remediation using mixture of microalgae and biodiesel production for sustainable transportation.

5) Eicosapentaenoic acid production from Nannochloropsis oceanica CY2 using deep sea water in outdoor plastic-bag type photobioreactors.

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