Microalgae that can be used as food for humans? Researcher Foo Su Chern from the Monash University School of Science of Malaysia’s Monash University is thinking about it. She is studying these particular monocellular organisms that can convert carbon dioxide and sunlight into biochemical products and produce oxygen as a by-product.
More than 100,000 species of microalgae have been classified to those of interest to the researcher are perhaps those that have yet to be discovered. Microalgae are already used in some nutraceutical food supplements and the properties of many species that could be of benefit to human health, but also to animal health, are certainly of interest.
Interest could increase even more with ongoing climate change as the microalgae themselves could be used to reduce carbon in the air.
Microalgae, as Foo herself explains, can grow in freshwater or seawater bodies, are characterized by high yield and, compared to other crops, are characterized by a much lower carbon release.
This means that the cultivation of microalgae itself would be much more sustainable than any other crop. They can be grown anywhere, even in closed areas, and are especially suitable in those tropical regions where there is sunshine almost all year round.
This is precisely why Malaysia could have great potential for microalgae cultivation. These could, for example, be grown as an alternative biomass to supplement palm oil, which is already widely consumed in the country, not to mention its possible use in animal feed.
This is precisely why Foo and his team are now analysing those microalgae species that are more efficient at capturing carbon and converting it into useful biochemical products, including food for humans. The team has already developed a bioreactor to produce monocultural microalgae with over 80% purity.
“We hope to gain more research opportunities and promote microalgae as a sustainable resource in the context of Southeast Asia. We need to understand that microalgae are very useful. My ultimate goal is to make microalgae more accessible to the public, so I hope to solve bottlenecks in this growing area,” says the researcher.