ALGINET network: microalgae as cell factories

September 27, 2005

Brussels, 26 Sep 2005

ALGINET, an EU funded international consortium, is building a virtual catalogue of microalgae and its properties, aimed principally at Europe's biotechnology industrial sector. The network will focus on research into microalgae, and will also make recommendations for its future direction. It will also aid technology transfer between cutting edge research companies and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and lay the groundwork for a microalgal virtual institute.

In the last years, there has been an increasing interest throughout Europe in alternative methods of obtaining chemical and biochemical products. Scientists are turning to microalgae as a natural source for a wide variety of useful products, such as pharmaceuticals, due to the therapeutic potential of certain species. Another industrial is using microalgae as a source of food for humans and animals.

There are many centres of excellence throughout Europe specialising in the field of microalgae. However, whilst interesting results are often obtained, good results have been limited due to poor coordination and duplication of research efforts. A lack of communication between workers in the field has harmed competitiveness.

A lack of focus in the research performed was also detected by experts, and when certain aspects of a problem are not duly considered, commercialisation of novel products and technologies can become problematic. Also, the uptake rate of new technology has been rather low.

In 2003, the European Commission awarded 1.22 million euro to the ALGINET project, through key action 5 of the 'quality of life' programme of the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5). Some 31 research centres and industrial partners from 12 EU countries, Norway and Israel, participate in ALGINET; which stands for 'microalgae as cell factories for chemical and biochemical products'. The network aims to help coordinate the European research effort in the field of microalgae and to improve communication within the European microalgal industry, encouraging research into further development of the industrial uses of microscopic algae.

This three year project, to be completed in January 2006, is laying the groundwork for other research projects by providing a searchable online database of European culture collections of microalgae, a 'one-stop shop' for users and potential users of microalgal cultures. The project is also surveying the current state-of-the-art in microalgal research, and the useful products obtainable from cyanobacteria and microalgae, as well as identifying possible future uses for microalgae. Current barriers to the use of microalgae for synthesising chemical products are being investigated so that possible solutions may be proposed. Technology transfer is encouraged by publicising the network's results and activities, and promoting awareness of the potential benefits to Europe from increased use of microalgae.

Preliminary work towards the establishment of a virtual institute for microalgal technology is another aspect of the project.

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