Over millennia, living organisms and biological systems in nature and the human body have developed a resourceful toolbox of bio-chemical capabilities, cellular and biomolecular processes and genetic resources. Inspired by a deeper understanding of these tools, life sciences researchers have studied nature to create new biotech solutions, in sectors including healthcare, agriculture and industry that help people and the planet.
Today modern biotechnology provides breakthrough therapeutic treatments and biofortifi ed nutrition that save lives and improve wellbeing. It enables new technologies that support a circular bioeconomy and more sustainable agriculture that reduces the impact of human activity on our climate and ecosystems. It has inspired the development of new cutting-edge industrial manufacturing processes that are safer, cleaner and more efficient.
Fish free algae omega-3s as a feed ingredient can reduce the dependence on small wild fish in our oceans
One of the many benefits of incorporating fish in our diets is that they are a source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients are good for brain and eye health, reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers, as well as improve bone and joint health.
In the wild, microscopic marine algae are a primary producer of omega-3 and the fi rst step in the ocean’s food chain. Small fish accumulate omega-3 by eating marine microalgae. In turn, larger fi sh accumulate omega-3 by eating smaller fish. In aquaculture, this food chain has traditionally been replicated by catching ‘forage’ or ‘prey’ fish to feed to larger farmed fi sh, like Salmon, to ensure that they are healthy and rich in omega-3’s. Bio-scientists have now created alternative aquaculture feed ingredients that can be produced directly from omega-3 rich marine microalgae.
Learning from living organisms and biological systems in nature
Omega-3 rich fi sh feed ingredients are derived from marine microalgae, which are amongst the most ancient members of the plant kingdom. One of the source crops used is the microalga Schizochytrium – types of which have been harvested from South American mangrove swamps and the deep North Pacific – which are high in Docosahexaenoic (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic (EPA) fatty acids.
Algae is cultivated in closed fermentation tanks, transforming renewable, sustainable plant sugars into algae biomass containing omega-3 rich oil in a matter of days. The microalgae use sugar for energy and growth and convert the carbon in sugar into nutritious and essential fatty acids. Some algae companies extract algal oils, while others use the biomass directly as an omega-3 feed ingredient.
The first generation of these cultivation strains of microalgae has delivered DHA fatty acids for human nutrition since the mid-2000s, however they have only been aff ordable in high-value applications such DHA for infant formula. The ability to produce microalgae derived omega-3 fatty acids at scale has been developed more recently, reducing production costs sufficiently to compete on price with fish oils in the fish-feed market.
Improving human lives, health and wellbeing
Omega-3 fatty acids have enormous health benefits – reducing the risk of various diseases, while in pregnancy and infanthood, they help a baby’s nervous system develop - and it is recommended that a healthy diet includes two portions of fish per week. The benefi ts of ensuring a sustainable supply of omega-3 rich fi sh for the planet’s growing population are clear.
Did you know?
• One ton of algal Omega-3s for aquaculture equals 40- 60 tons of forage fi sh. The fi sh can either be left in the sea to rebuild depressed stocks or used sustainably for other purposes such as food for coastal populations.
• Fish lovers live longer. A study among elderly women showed that those with the highest omega-3 status (i.e. O-3 Index) were the ones with the lowest mortality.
• Algae is now used in over 25% of Norwegian salmon feed.
Reducing the impact climate and ecosystems while growing food production
Our ocean’s resources are limited, and the world’s growing population cannot continue to take fi sh from the seas indefinitely. That is why aquaculture has a big role to play in providing a sustainable, healthy food source. However, aquaculture has to be done in a responsible, sustainable way.
Every ton of algal omega-3s equals 40- 60 tons of forage fish, which can either be left in the oceans or sustainably repurposed. With many fi sheries being harvested to or beyond their limits, these algal solutions help provide some relief to the pressures of overfi shing. The FAO has called upon aquaculture to grow its output by a factor of six by 2050 – to provide a growing global population with healthy, sustainable seafood. This can only be achieved with innovative and sustainable feed ingredients such as marine microalgae.