Analytical Services news

A new collaboration between New Zealand and French scientists aims to develop new functional food ingredients and bioactive compounds from a unique strain of algae (pictured)
24 March 2016

Collaboration to unlock power of algae

There are between 40,000 and 70,000 known species of algae in the world, and their potential to help human health through food, nutraceuticals, and medicine is enormous.

One example is astaxanthin, an extract said to be nature's most powerful antioxidant. It's used for a range of skin, muscle, eye, joint, and heart benefits and is produced by Nelson's Supreme Biotech from a unique strain of algae (Haematococcus pluvialis) cultivated in the region. Cawthron was instrumental in that development.

Functional foods and bioactive compounds

Now, a collaboration between Cawthron scientists, the University of Auckland, and France's Institute for Exploitation of the Sea (IFREMER) is filling the gaps of technological know-how in growing and reproducing these algae. The work will help the development of new functional food ingredients and bioactive compounds that could be taken to market.

The collaboration combines Cawthron's chemistry expertise, the University of Auckland's prowess in lipid mapping, and IFREMER's knowledge of microalgae physiology and photobioreactor technology. It involves designing a 'pipeline' to take bioactive material from microalgae and streamline its production.

The team will develop a method to look at how the microalgae accumulate lipids during their life cycle, and then optimise their growth to concentrate the bioactive compounds within, producing better algae for use in aquaculture and high-value nutrition. The research also uses Cawthron's nationally significant living library of microalgae.

A good relationship

The project began last year, when, during some time overseas between other research programmes, Cawthron analytical chemist Donato Romanazzi spent three months at one of the IFREMER laboratories in Nantes.

"Everything went very well," he says. "We established a good relationship with them which is something we've been trying to do for a few years. We soon realised our capabilities complement each other and that we should keep working together.

"It's strategically really important for us to have strong collaborations with these big European research institutes. It allows us to get a foot in the door of the European Union and will give us a testing ground for many more opportunities there."

Investment success

The head of the IFREMER laboratory, Gael Bougaran, came to Cawthron last November, joining the Nelson team for a seminar with the Japanese collaborators of another research programme. Then came a successful opportunity to secure investment through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Catalyst Fund: Strategic.

The Catalyst Fund is broken up into four streams: Strategic, Seeding, Leaders, and Influence. The Strategic stream takes up about 60 per cent of the $9.3m fund and supports large-scale pre-research collaborations with priority science partners in targeted areas that cannot be supported through other means.

The fund's objectives include leveraging international research and infrastructure capabilities in areas posing significant science-based challenges to New Zealand and its international partners, and to profile New Zealand science and innovation as well as our ability to contribute to global science challenges.

Find out more:

Contact Donato Romanazzi
Phone: +64 3 548 2319 ext 360
Email: donato.romanazzi@cawthron.org.nz