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Courtesy of Mike Allen and Steve Gschmeissner

BIV Round 1: Metabolic mapping to understand and improve the production of omega-3 in algae

Principle investigator: Alison Smith
University of Cambridge

Microalgae represent a sustainable resource for the production of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) as they can mitigate against the environmental impacts of overfishing and do not compete for arable land. A critical component in achieving a sustainable and cost-effective algal production platform lies in achieving high biomass productivity with maximum bioactive yields. These parameters are limited by the microalgal cellular physiology and the constraints associated with cultivation in photobioreactors. The strategic aim of AlgaeCytes Ltd. is to enhance biological pathways and commercialise strains of microalgae from its portfolio to produce higher quantities of beneficial omega-3 or omega-6 oils and so provide a more cost-effective source of these products for the health and well-being markets. To achieve this, AlgaeCytes has been working to develop a pipeline to engineer microalgae for enhanced omega-3 production (mainly Eicosapentaenoic acid, otherwise known as EPA) under fermentation conditions. Moreover, the AlgaeCytes R&D team has optimised a nutrient solution for mixotrophic cultivation, meaning the algae can use both sunlight and fixed carbon. In order to accelerate the use and growth of the engineered strain (ALG07) from Technology Readiness Level TRL 3 through to TRL 6, AlgaeCytes is seeking to develop a collaboration with the Algal Innovation Centre at University of Cambridge to assess the metabolic profile (including PUFA’s) of ALG07 cells under different cultivation conditions. Specifically, the aim will be to study which metabolites are changing in response to growing phototrophically in the light, with light and fixed carbon in the media (mixotrophic), and in the dark with fixed carbon (heterotrophic). This will help us develop a metabolic model of ALG07 and identify potential bottlenecks and targets for future metabolic engineering to further increase EPA production and stack additional commercially valuable traits.