UConn Strikes Deal to Preserve Algae Collection

Algae Collection

Students conducting research with seaweed in the lab of Charles Yarish, emeritus professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. Photo: Sean Flynn/UConn

by Loretta Waldman

A​​n algae collection of 1,200 specimens, with the potential to seed the sustainable production of human food, animal feed, nutritional supplements, biofuel, and more will be preserved under a licensing deal finalized in early June by the Technology Commercialization Services (TCS) of UConn’s Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR).

The three-party agreement facilitated by TCS is with UConnWoods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Services (Bigelow), a non-profit oceanographic research lab in East Boothbay, Maine. The deal ensures that a collection of kelp germplasm taken from samples collected and isolated by UConn Emeritus Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology, Charles Yarish, and his students over the past four years, will be preserved for future cultivation and research.

Teams at UConn and WHOI developed and isolated the germplasm, which contain microscopic cells called gametophytes that act as seeds for the algae. Bigelow’s Provasoli-Guillard National Center for Marine Algae and Microbiota (NCMA) will maintain, market, and distribute the kelp culture collection for broad use.

The deal is the culmination of nearly nine months of painstaking effort and perseverance by Dr. Yarish and TCS that included culling through about 3,000 algae culture specimens to eliminate duplicates and identify the source of each sample.

Professor Charles Yarish

Emeritus professor Charles Yarish’s extensive collection of algae will be preserved through an agreement among UConn, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Services. Photo: UConn

Faced with having to shut down his lab at UConn, Dr. Yarish initially approached TCS for help preserving a separate collection of 237 samples of brown, red, and green algae from his lab. Abhijit Banerjee, Associate Vice President for Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship at OVPR, and Amit Kumar, Senior Director of Licensing at TCS, worked with Dr. Yarish to hammer out the details on that agreement, completed last November, and the latest one involving UConn, WHOI, and Bigelow.

“I give credit to Charles for reaching out to us and for working patiently to help us understand the value of this collection and negotiate a good deal,” said Dr. Kumar. “There are different ways our office can engage with university faculty and the work they do. One of those ways is to help them monetize their work.”

“This kelp culture collection will be essential for the preservation of heirloom strains, biodiversity conservation, ecosystem restoration and mariculture,” says Dr. Yarish, “It contains genotype and phenotype profiles offering great starting points as model systems for numerous research possibilities, including optimization of biorefining pipelines, development of new macroalgal products and byproducts, and exploration of macroalgal applications for climate change mitigation.”

“We consider ourselves a strategic partner,” said OVPR’s Dr. Banerjee. “We are all gatekeepers of intellectual property for the university. When we see this kind of sample and understand its worth in the world, we are absolutely compelled to preserve it. That’s the right thing to do for the university and the world. We saved cultures that would not otherwise have survived.”

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