Microalgae, like the cyanobacteria Spirulina, have been used as foods and nutritional supplements worldwide for centuries. It wasn’t until the mid-1900s that the biotechnology potential of these billion-year-old organisms was investigated, leading to the discovery that they produce a range of beneficial compounds.
Microalgae offer many advantages as a production chassis for every industry:
- Diverse metabolic profiles for new product discovery
- Synthetic biology for strain development
- Sustainable production via photosynthesis
Thanks to new technologies such as next generation genome sequencing, synthetic biology, and modeling techniques, as well as advanced bioprocessing capabilities leveraging our unique precision photosynthesis, we can take a systemic approach to accelerating natural algae products to the market.
Food, Biofuels, Therapeutics and More
Microalgae are Generally Regarded As Safe and have been used by humans as a source of nutrition for centuries due to their high iron and protein content. Algae also produce a diverse array of metabolic by-products relevant to a variety of industries:
- β-carotene (Nutraceutical)
- Astaxanthin (Therapeutic)
- Phycobilin pigment (Food Ingredient)
- Growth factors (Agriculture)
- Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (Nutraceutical and Biofuel)
The algae biofuel sector enjoyed much hype and investment in the 2000s. Unfortunately, the technology could not compete as petrochemical oil prices dropped dramatically in the early 2010s. Algae companies then leveraged the diverse metabolism of their strains and pivoted into sectors such as nutraceuticals, ingredients, therapeutics, and specialty chemicals.
Now, synthetic biology and precision engineering of strains can unlock the potential of microalgae for a range of natural products, making sustainable production commercially viable.
Adding Value with Synthetic Biology
Currently, just a handful of microalgae species are utilized commercially, for a variety of natural products. Thousands of microalgae strains, with a vast array of industrially relevant product profiles, have been characterized but remained untapped due to a previous lack of genetic tools to unlock their potential.
This has all changed with the advent of Synthetic Biology, an engineering approach to biology using 21st Century tools such as machine learning, modelling, and automation. Using Synthetic Biology in our R&D, we have transformed microalgae strain development into a precision engineering discipline for the optimization of:
- Growth of diverse microalgae strains
- Production of natural metabolic by-products
- Engineered metabolic pathways for novel product formation
We screen natural strains for unique, high-value products and optimize natural growth and production. Additionally, we are capable of introducing metabolic pathways from one strain of microalgae into another, for example to achieve improved production in a more robust strain or augmenting the pathway for a novel end-product.
Scaling Up with Precision Photosynthesis
Besides unlocking their metabolic potential, another barrier to microalgae as an industrial chassis exists: scaling production. Raceway pond designs may be useful where sunlight is abundant but lack the consistency of photobioreactors and certainly do not meet GMP standards.
Most microalgae have only been cultivated at bench scale due to their fragile nature. This is due to a few key factors:
- Their fragile structures are unsuited to high bioreactor flow rates
- Light delivery is suboptimal in glass bioreactors
- Nutritional and cultivation requirements difficult to optimize at large scale
Our solution is a controlled photobioreactor system that allows for precision photosynthesis by regulating light penetration in the culture. With this, we can control growth, metabolite production, and even cultivate fragile strains by adjusting gas and media flow. These reactors are cGMP and FDA compliant with clean-in-place systems to guarantee standards for highly regulated products such as therapeutics.
We further mitigate scale-up risks using computational modeling. This ensures the target compound is produced at economically viable quantities prior to scaling up for pilot or commercial production where optimized growth conditions are essential.
Not Just Another Algae Company
Algae companies have gone through many iterations in the past several decades. With new technologies in strain development and cultivation, as well as a market pull for sustainably sourced chemicals and natural ingredients, there is renewed interest in using microalgae-based chassis for production.
Our end-to-end approach, leveraging and commercialising the potential of microalgae can be achieved efficiently and at scale. Ask how we can help you design a sustainable production platform for your ingredient, nutrient or therapeutic needs at scale.
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- Borowitzka M.A. (2015) Algal Biotechnology. In: Sahoo D., Seckbach J. (eds) The Algae World. Cellular Origin, Life in Extreme Habitats and Astrobiology, vol 26. Springer, Dordrecht. doi:10.1007/978-94-017-7321-8_11
- Carbonell P, Gök A, Shapira P, Faulon JL. Mapping the patent landscape of synthetic biology for fine chemical production pathways. Microb Biotechnol. 2016 Sep;9(5):687-95. doi: 10.1111/1751-7915.12401