Nofima Shows Microalgae Breeding Potential

 Seagriculture EU 2024
Nofima Shows Microalgae Breeding Potential

Selective breeding can significantly increase the omega-3 content of microalgae. Marie Lillehammer is behind the research. Photo: Jon-Are Berg Jacobsen. ©Nofima

In order to grow, algae require light, temperature and nutrients. However, growth is also affected by algae’s genes. To explore the genetic potential, scientists at the Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research (Nofima) decided to test whether it is possible to selectively breed microalgae as one might with farmed fish.

“We wanted to know whether breeding can contribute to faster growth and increased omega-3 content,” said Nofima Senior Scientist Marie Lillehammer. “The initial trials we carried out yielded very promising results. When crossing individuals or genera that produce high yields, we wanted to know if the next generation would produce higher yields than the previous one, and so on.”

Many microalgae reproduce vegetatively. Therefore, the scientist chose the species Seminavis robusta – a well-studied alga that has sexual reproduction. Eight lines of the species were crossed with each other in one generation and tested in the breeding trial.

25 percent increase in one generation

Although the species is not very relevant as a feed resource, the trial showed that 18% of omega-3 production in the algae is determined by the genes (heritability). Breeding gives an 8.8% increase of omega-3 in one generation.

Growth percentages were even higher. With a 50% heritability, the microalgae grew 25% faster per generation; in theory, a ninefold increase per year, given ten generations in one year.

“It may be that inbreeding and physiological limitations would halt growth over generations, or growth would have side effects. However, this trial shows that breeding should be explored further if microalgae is to become an important feed ingredient for European aquaculture,” says Lillehammer.

The research is part of the project NewTechAqua, which is financed by the EU through Horizon 2020, and runs in collaboration with Universidad de Las Palmas and Ghent University.

Source: Nofima

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