The interest in the use of microalgae in industry is rapidly increasing, as in recent years a significant demand for natural bio-functional products has appeared on the international market. Many species of microalgae are classified as oleaginous, since they are capable of accumulating intracellular lipids (SCOs) at >20% of their dry biomass. These lipids are often rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), paired with glycerol and other molecules such as mono-alcohols, sugars, pigments, etc. Microalgae are the primary source of long-chain PUFAs, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and not fish, since these organisms are supplied with PUFAs through bio-accumulation caused during their feeding with zooplankton. These fatty acids play an essential role in the development and reproduction of fish, while in humans is proven to have beneficial effects in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, various cancers, Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia. In addition, they have anti-microbial effect, as fatty acids such as linoleic acid (LA), α-linolenic acid (ALA) and arachidonic acid (ARA) have a bactericidal effect against Gram positive and negative bacteria. Today, the main source of ω3 LC-PUFAs in market is fish oil. However, serious concerns about the viability of fish oil, as well as its acceptance by consumers as a dietary supplement or ingredient (particular taste and/or odour), as well as its possible contamination with heavy metals, have led to extensive research into the development of alternative sources of PUFAs. ARA, EPA and DHA are detected in various marine microalgae genera such as Phaeodactylum, Nannochloropsis, Isochrysis, Pavlova, Tetraselmis.
Alternatively, lipids of microalgae can be used in the biodiesel industry, instead of plant oils. In addition to lipids, microalgae are an excellent source of pigments, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, folic acid, bioactive proteins and polysaccharides.
The Ionian Sea is one of the most important fish resources for Greece, since many aquacultures are based there. Aquaculture uses microalgae in the diet of zooplankton, which is used in fish feed. However, knowledge about the indigenous strains of microalgae of the Ionian Sea is limited and its further exploration will open the horizons for the development of new applications of marine microalgae in our country, in the aquaculture sector as well as in the domestic production of high-added value products from microalgae.
The aim of IonianAlgae is the isolation of new strains of microalgae of the Ionian Sea, and identify them using molecular techniques. The newly-isolated strains will be the beginning of a collection, which will be available to researchers and private companies for research and commercial exploitation. The strains will be cultivated under laboratory conditions and some of them will be selected for further studies. The selected strains will be grown in laboratory bio-reactors and studied for their ability to accumulate significant amounts of lipids rich in PUFAs or less saturated suitable for the production of biodiesel, polysaccharides, pigments, antioxidants and/or proteins. Finally, a limited number of strains will be selected for adaptive evolution studies in order to optimize the accumulation of reserve materials, under conditions favourable for accumulation, followed by conditions encouraging the dominance of strains containing energy reserves at high rates. The activity of key enzymes involved in carbon metabolism (biosynthesis and degradation of polysaccharides and lipids) will be studied under different growth conditions and associated with chemical cell analyses.