from the soylent-green-meet-the-matrix dept.
Life on earth could not survive without seaweed and algae. Every second oxygen molecule that we inhale originates from them. In the future, they could also become an important food source:
Fraunhofer researchers are working on processes for commercial cultivation, as well as the extraction of many kinds of protein and other nutrients.
Dr. Ulrike Schmid-Staiger is group manager for Algae Biotechnology at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart. For 25 years now, she has been perfecting the cultivation of microalgae in photobioreactors – transparent water tanks that supply the tiny organisms with light, CO2 and nutrients until they grow to form a thick green soup. Dr. Schmid-Staiger currently devotes most of her time to the marine Phaeodactylum tricornutum, which can generate particularly large quantities of omega-3 fatty acids, and to Chlorella vulgaris, which feels most at home in ponds and brackish water and stands out thanks to its high protein content of around 50 percent. When suspended in water, neither alga is detectable to the naked eye.
"Compared to terrestrial plants, our algae contain around ten times the amount of valuable nutritious substances," declares Dr. Schmid-Staiger with pride. Every single cell contains the same rich mix of nutrients. Terrestrial plants, on the other hand, also have roots, stalks and leaves. The substances contained in the cells vary in the different parts of a plant – the protein content of a corn kernel is different to that of its leaves or roots. "I can make use of every part of the algal biomass we grow here. There is hardly any waste material," emphasizes Dr. Schmid-Staiger. And these are not the only advantages microalgae have to offer. For one thing, they grow much more quickly than their botanical, land-based cousins. While 1 hectare of farmland can yield around 30 tons of corn biomass, a photobioreactor with artificial lighting can yield up to 150 tons of algae from the same surface area.
[...] Up to now, microalgae have been sold in tablet form as a food supplement for the most part, while consumers and food industry stakeholders are more familiar with multi-celled marine macroalgae, or seaweed. Most people will have seen this in sushi, where nori, a savory/sweet seaweed, is used to wrap up rice and fish. However, while seaweed has been a dietary staple in the Asiatic world for centuries, Europeans are still dubious about this superfood. It is rarely served in the form of a salad or soup. Yet even consumers that avoid sushi have probably already eaten algae without realizing it, as alginates and carrageen are common food additives. Alginates are often used as a gelatin substitute, while carrageen is added to products such as cream to prevent flocculation and ensure even fat distribution.
Originally spotted on The Eponymous Pickle.
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Arthur T Knackerbracket has processed the following story:
The global food supply faces a range of threats including climate change, wars, pests and diseases. An organism too small for the human eye to see—microalgae—could offer some answers.
Feeding a growing world population that will, according to United Nations forecasts, reach 9.8 billion by 2050, and the need to conserve natural resources for generations to come may seem conflicting at first.
But a solution, while not yet in sight, is certainly not out of reach. European scientists recently have developed an appetite for microalgae, also called phytoplankton, a sub-group of algae consisting of unicellular photosynthetic microorganisms.
Most people are familiar with the largest form of algae, kelp or seaweed. It can grow up to three meters long and, in some forms, is a well-known delicacy. The related species microalgae, which can be found in both seawater and freshwater, have gained attention in research due to their extraordinary properties.
These microscopic organisms can be used for animal feed, particularly in aquaculture, and various foods including pasta, vegan sausages, energy bars, bakery products and vegetable creams.
[...] "Microalgae can be cultivated in many different locations, under very different conditions," said Massimo Castellari, who is involved in the Horizon-funded ProFuture project aimed at scaling up microalgae production. "We can grow it in Iceland and in a desert climate."