Home Systems biology Developing marine aquaculture to sustainably produce nutritious food

Developing marine aquaculture to sustainably produce nutritious food


Microalgae cultivation facility along the Kona Coast on the Big Island of Hawaii. Image courtesy of Cyanotech Corporation. Credit: Greene, CH, CM Scott-Buechler, ALP Hausner, ZI Johnson, X. Lei and ME Huntley. 2022. Transforming the Future of Marine Aquaculture: A Circular Economy Approach. Oceanography, p. 28, doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2022.213, CC BY 4.0

Land-based agriculture is the backbone of the global food production system. A new opinion piece published in the open access journal PLOS Biology advocates for increased investment in seaweed aquaculture systems as a way to meet nutritional needs while reducing the ecological footprint of food production. Written by Charles H. Greene at University of WashingtonFriday Harbor, Washington, and Celina M. Scott-Buechler of Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, the article was published on October 17.

Adverse impacts on climate, land use, freshwater resources and biodiversity would result from increased agricultural and fisheries production to meet consumer demand. In their paper, the authors argue for shifting the focus from marine aquaculture down the food chain to algae. This could potentially meet the growing demand for nutritious foods in addition to reducing the ecological footprint of the current food system.

Charles Green

Charles Greene. Credit: Charles Greene, DC BY 4.0

Microalgae could provide large amounts of nutritional protein and essential elements

Amino acids are a set of organic compounds used to build proteins. There are about 500 naturally occurring known amino acids, though only 20 appear in the genetic code. Proteins consist of one or more chains of amino acids called polypeptides. The sequence of the amino acid chain causes the polypeptide to fold into a shape that is biologically active. The amino acid sequences of proteins are encoded in the genes. Nine proteinogenic amino acids are called "essential" for humans because they cannot be produced from other compounds by the human body and so must be taken in as food.
" data-gt-translate-attributes="[{" attribute="">amino acids, in addition to other micronutrients, such as vitamins and antioxidants. Additionally, a marine aquaculture industry based on microalgae would not require arable land and freshwater, nor pollute freshwater and marine ecosystems with fertilizer runoff. The article does not address the potential for a new algae-based aquaculture industry to be culturally sensitive, how large-scale microalgae production would affect local dietary habits, or the taste of algae.

According to the authors, “The financial headwinds facing a new marine microalgae-based aquaculture industry will be difficult as it must challenge incumbent industries for market share before its technologies are fully mature and can take full advantage of the scale. Financial investments and market incentives provided by states and federal governments can help reduce this green premium until the playing field is level. The future role of algae-based solutions in achieving global food security and environmental sustainability will depend on the actions governments take today.

Greene adds, “Agriculture is the backbone of today’s global food production system; however, its potential to meet global nutritional needs by 2050 is limited. Marine microalgae can help fill the predicted nutrient gap while simultaneously improving overall environmental sustainability and ocean health.

Interview with Associate Director of Research and Strategic Planning, Dr. Charles H. Greene

What first inspired you to study microalgae and sustainability?

About a dozen years ago, I came to the conclusion that too many Earth scientists were focusing only on the impacts of climate change and not looking for solutions to the problem. A colleague of mine, Dr. Mark Huntley, invited me to join his team studying the potential of marine microalgae in the production of biofuels. Over time, our thinking evolved and we realized that marine microalgae had enormous potential to address the global challenges of food and water security, climate change and many other aspects of environmental sustainability.

What are the main conclusions that you gathered in your article?

By adopting an integrated circular economy approach to growing marine microalgae, we can close the gap in human nutrition projected for 2050 and simultaneously reduce many of the negative impacts that our current food production system has on the climate and the environment. global environment.

What surprised or interested you the most in your discoveries?

We have always known that the high productivity of marine microalgae can help us reduce the carbon and land footprint of agriculture. However, what was an unexpected surprise was the amount of protein that could potentially be produced from such a small footprint of non-arable coastal land in the Global South. The implications of our results for sustainable development are profound.

What are the next steps for research on this topic?

As green venture capitalist John Doerr points out in his recent book*, it’s all about speed and scale. Our window of time to solve these global challenges is narrow, and the solutions are on a scale our policymakers find it hard to imagine, let alone invest. The future of algae-based solutions to achieve global food security and environmental sustainability will depend on the actions taken by the investment community and governments today.

*Speed ​​and Scale: An Action Plan to Solve Our Climate Crisis Now

Reference: “Algal solutions: Transforming marine aquaculture from the bottom up for a sustainable future” by Charles H. Greene and Celina M. Scott-Buechler, October 17, 2022, PLOS Biology.
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3001824