Artificially produced microalgae: a more environmentally friendly source of essential nutrients than fish?

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Microalgae could provide an alternative source of omega-3 fatty acids, being also more environmentally friendly to produce than popular fish species. This is the result of a new study by scientists at Martin Luther Halle-Wittenberg University (MLU), recently published in the Journal of Applied Phycology.

Microalgae have been the subject of studies for several decades, initially related to the fact that they can be used as raw material for alternative fuels, but more recently to the fact that they can be a source of essential nutrients in the human diet. They are mainly produced in open ponds in Asia – waters that are at risk of contamination. Also, some species of algae are easier to grow in closed systems, the so-called photobioreactors. “We wanted to see if microalgae produced in photobioreactors could provide a more environmentally friendly source of essential nutrients than fish,” says Susann Schade of the MLU Institute of Agricultural and Nutritional Sciences. Until now, photobioreactors have been compared only with pond cultivation and most of the time there have been negative effects generated by their impact on the environment. “However, little research has been done on quantifying the environmental impact of algae produced for human consumption, especially in climatic conditions such as those found in Germany,” adds Schade.

 

The carbon footprint of microalgae nutrients was compared with that of fish. The researchers were able to demonstrate that microalgae farming has a similar impact on the environment with fish production. “However, if we compare the effects on the environment in relation to the amount of omega-3 fatty acids produced, fish in aquaculture have a lower score,” says Schade. An advantage of algae cultivation is low soil consumption; even infertile soils can be used. Instead, both open ponds and the cultivation of food for aquaculture require very large areas of land. In particular, fish species that are popular in Germany, such as salmon and pangasius, are produced primarily by aquaculture and therefore put the environment under considerable pressure.

However, “microalgae should not and cannot completely replace fish as a food source. But if microalgae could be used as a common food, it could become another excellent and environmentally friendly source of omega-3 fatty acids,” Meier explains. Several algae are already used as a food supplement in powder or tablet form and as an additive to foods such as pasta or cereals. It would be a way to reduce the current gap in the global supply of omega-3 fatty acids.

For an optimal intake of omega-3 fatty acids, we need to eat foods such as fish, seafood, seeds, nuts, and the easiest way to incorporate them into our diet is with the help of the Dahna application, which is based on the Mediterranean diet, considered by researchers to be the healthiest diet in the world.

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