Prof. Moomaw Explores Marine Microalgae as the Next Sustainable Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Protein Source

Industrial Biotechnology

Published by Industrial Biotechnology
Food security is an urgent global problem. According to the United Nations, nearly one-seventh of the world’s population, or one billion people, are regularly undernourished. By 2050, an additional two to three billion new guests will join the global dinner table. The food crisis is a matter of providing not only sufficient calories, but also the protein and nutrients essential to good health. Fish provide an excellent source of balanced protein and omega-3 fatty acids, but meeting nutritional goals of the global population with marine species has become more difficult as the world’s oceans have been depleted of fish and catches have declined since 1996. A simple question—where do fish get their essential omega-3 fatty acids from, and what is the carbon source of their protein?—may turn the nutrition equation from grim to promising. The answer: from marine algae at the bottom of their food chain. So why not cut out the middle fish? This paper analyzes the reasons behind the global feed and food crisis and proposes looking toward marine microalgae as a solution. The paper compares the sustainability footprint (measured in freshwater and fertile-land utilization) of various food sources based on their nutritional value (measured in essential amino acids, EAAs). Animal sources of proteins require vast amounts of fresh water and fertile land per EAA. Because of the relatively low amounts of EEAs in terrestrial plants, their sustainability advantage relative to animal-based foods is smaller than generally assumed. Marine microalgae, on the other hand, which are cultivated using a brackish/marine water source, may present the best sustainable option thus far. The paper also analyzes the sustainability metrics (usage of fresh water and fertile land) of different algal growth systems, presented in worse-to-best sustainability order: sugarcane sugar-based fermentation, fresh water open systems, marine/brackish water open systems and marine/brackish water closed systems with artificial light. Finally, the paper discusses some of the technological and regulatory barriers in positioning marine, omega-3-rich microalgae as the next sustainable aquafeed and food ingredient.

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