Sustainable microalgae herald the future

Sustainable microalgae herald the future

Sustainability is gaining steam as a concept around the globe. As concerns rise around traditional land-based plant sources of food oils, micro-algae is being seen as an untapped source. Geoffrey Brooks unveils the story of these beneficial compounds that can be converted into sustainable ingredients, products and fuels, including food oils high in omegas.


Microalgal cells are shown here growing in preparation for analysis.We are entering an extraordinary era in the functional-foods and nutritional-oils industries when it comes to green and sustainable technology breakthroughs. Global demand for healthier, zero-trans-fat oils, crop use for biofuels, and consumer demand for more sustainable solutions have significantly affected price, availability and perceived benefits of traditional plant sources of oils and powders for the nutraceutical and functional-foods market.

Micro-algae and other micro-aquatic plants are amazing life forms — they have evolved over billions of years to not only survive but actually thrive in earth's harshest environments. They do this by naturally producing a remarkable array of protective and nourishing compounds — fatty acids, unique carotenoids, algal plant sterols, phospholipids and nutrient-rich oils.

Although there are hundreds of thousands of micro-algae species, Solazyme Health Sciences focuses its research and intellectual property on species that are naturally the highest producers of beneficial compounds. For example, several of its micro-algae are high-oil producers — they produce an edible, naturally heart-healthy and zero-trans-fat oil.

Micro-algae offer a wide range of sustainable, natural solutions that are just beginning to be realised. Micro-algae are the ancient life form that will change the future. They can do so because they can be developed in a sustainable, economical and 'better for health, better for the planet' manner. The nutraceutical, functional-foods and cosmetics industries are only part of the larger story. Amazingly, this same oil can also be converted into a renewable fuel and green chemicals!

Fermentation advantages

Cultivating micro-algae and their highly beneficial compounds through the ancient art of fermentation starts with just a few micro-algae cells. Fermentation leverages micro-algae's naturally fast growth rate to produce hundreds of thousands of litres of a nutrient-rich and oily biomass in a short time. Using fermentation also means significantly lower land and water usage vs traditional land-based crops.

There are four important things about Solazyme's fermentation method and the materials grown from it:

  • It uses non-Genetically Modified Organisms (non-GMO);
  • It uses no pesticides or herbicides, nor does it require harvesting of marine plant life from our oceans or other valuable water sources;
  • It is vegan, gluten-free, kosher, and nutrient-rich superfood;
  • The biomass that is grown offers a remarkable spectrum of beneficial compounds?including fatty acids, carotenoids, plant sterols, phospholipids and cosmetic actives;
  • The oil that is naturally produced by the micro-algae is zero trans fat and a heart-healthy edible oil. It can also be converted into a renewable energy source, offering a powerful alternative to traditional biofuels.

The biomass that's produced offers a remarkable spectrum of beneficial compounds — fatty acids, carotenoids, plant sterols, phospholipids, selenium and a heart-healthy oil, as well as skin-care actives. Many of these are novel compounds that offer unique benefits. The oil is interesting — high in oleic acid, low in saturates and with zero trans fat — actually a very similar profile to olive oil. The advantage is that it also naturally provides several carotenoids and other nutrients, boosting its heart-health value.

Other nutraceutical compounds extracted show benefits related to glucose modulation, cardiovascular health and weight management. These are preliminary, but intriguing results, and additional testing is planned.

Fermentation conditions and the growth nutrients can be modified to change the nutrient profile — so in addition to high-oil foods, a high-protein/low-oil biomass can be grown. This IP-protected material is a unique vegetarian protein that offers an economical and sustainable alternative to typical soy and whey formulations. This heart-healthy superfood — provided as both the oil as well as the high-oil powdered biomass — can boost the healthiness of many food applications. Both the oil and powdered forms have a slightly nutty taste by themselves, but have minimal if any taste impact when incorporated into a recipe. And because it is high in oil, the biomass allows formulators to replace traditional fat sources with a zero-trans-fat oil.

It has been successfully incorporated into a wide range of stable functional-foods applications — energy bars, shots, smoothies as well as traditional foods like dressings, cookies and brownies.

The oil and powdered heart-healthy foods are self-affirmed GRAS. Solazyme is currently in the process of taking its materials through a full GRAS process.

Cosmetics looking pretty

On the cosmetics front, a number of microalge in Solazyme's strain library produce skin-health compounds. Some of this research goes back nearly a decade and the company is now bringing to the market novel compounds clinically demonstrated to provide a wide array of cosmetic benefits — fine-line and wrinkle reduction, moisturisation, and skin softening are a few of the results validated in third-party testing. And the great part is that these compounds come from a natural, sustainably grown plant source.

Micro-algae and other micro-aquatic organisms are also unique in the natural world in that they can produce compounds that are beneficial for internal cellular health and other compounds that offer powerful topical benefits. This makes them perfectly suited as a source of inside/out beauty and health formulations. With consumers' increased awareness of inside-out health, it would appear there is a tremendous opportunity to realise micro-algae's potential.

Geoffrey Brooks, general manager of Solazyme Health Sciences, has spent more than 40 years in the development of more than 300 new ingredients for cosmeceutical, hair-care and bath products. Solazyme is the health and wellness division of Solazyme Inc, a global leader in algal biotechnology and a provider of a wide array of sustainable product technologies. The California-based company offers a portfolio of ingredient and product innovations for licensing to marketing partners in the nutraceuticals, functional-foods and cosmetics industries.


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