Lead Research Organisation: Plymouth Marine Laboratory
Department Name: Plymouth Marine Lab


Microalgae, microscopic plants ubiqitous in the world's oceans, are nature's very own power cells converting light energy from the sun into chemical compounds. The high biodiversity of microalgae and their adaptation to a wide range of changing environments has resulted in them containing unique suites of compounds. Certain suites of compounds play a key role in protecting the cell against for example the sun's damaging rays. These same compounds have potential to protect humans and could be used in a range of healthcare consumer products. Currently, microalgae are a relatively untapped source of natural products. The heathcare industry are are looking to nature for sustainable alternatives in a range of their personal care products and microalgae have many attributes that make them particularly attractive. Research at Plymouth Marine Laboratory in collaboration with the Boots Company has revealed that certain species of microalgae contain valuable bioactivity including sunscreen protection and antioxidant activity. This project will focus on optimising the yield of these bioactives and on understanding biosynthetic pathways and interconversions. Results from experimental studies will be compared to those derived from mathematical models and will be used to optimise the yield of bioactives in microalgae grown using photobioreactor (PBR) technology, required for commercial scale production of microlagae. We will also investigate the potential of using waste CO2 and NOx emissions to enhance the growth of the microalgae and assess the impact this has on levels of bioactives. Additionally co-product material, remaining after extraction of targeted bioactives, will be investigated as a potential sustainable source of nutrition for farmed fish.

Technical Summary

The mycosporine-like amino acids (MAAs) and carotenoids in microalgae play a key role in protecting the cell against environmental damage. These compounds also have application in a wide range of healthcare consumer products. Preliminary research at Plymouth Marine has recently led to PML Applications and Boots revealing sunscreen and antioxidant activity in extracts of selected microalgal species. To commercialise these results we need a better understanding on the identity, distribution and function of the MAAs and carotenoids and in particular on the transformation and biosynthetic pathways of the MAAs. The overall aim of this project is to optimise conditions for the production of bioactives using PBR technology. Results will provide a clearer understanding on the photophysiological function of these MAAs and carotenoids, important in relation to ecosystem ecology and in response to environmental stressors critical in climate change. It will also provide information essential to optimising conditions for the production of bioactives using PBR technology on a commercial scale. We bring together a consortium to maximise use of resources across all aspects of the project life cycle. PML will undertake the basic research working together with PML Applications Ltd on novel PBRs. Collaboration with Carlton Power will investigate using simulated waste emissions (CO2/NOX) and heat from a gas turbine power station to enhance growth of the microalgae. The University of Plymouth brings expertise on aquaculture and fish nutrition and will assess the potential of co-product microalgal material. The long term aim is to demonstrate the commercial viability of synergistically integrating high value bioactive production, green house gas emission utilisation and aquaculture, in order to provide a model for the sustainable use of resources and the production of natural compounds for well being of humans, livestock and the environment. Joint with BB/E01898X/1


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Polimene L (2012) Modelling xanthophyll photoprotective activity in phytoplankton in Journal of Plankton Research

Description This was a LINK grant - refer to LINK Factsheet published on line



Exploitation Route production of extracts and chemicals in industry Via Boots and a manfacturing company.

Continuation of large scale construction at Boots Nottignham Site via TSB Biorefinery and carbon capture project (CCIF)
Sectors Chemicals,Energy,Environment,Healthcare

URL http://www.nnfcc.co.uk/publications/...of...microalgae...link.../file
Description The research contributed to new on-going collaboration with Unilever
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Chemicals,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Economic

Description CR&D
Amount £150,000 (GBP)
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2010 
End 12/2010
Description NBAF
Amount £32,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2010 
End 12/2010
Description Technology Strategy Board Competition CRD
Amount £800 (GBP)
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2009 
End 01/2012
Description A personal care composition comprising a microalgae extract from Chlorogloeopsis spp. and a topically acceptable carrier therefor. The compositions are useful in methods for the prevention, amelioration or treatment of UV-induced damage of mammalian keratinous tissue, for example in one or more of the following skin conditions: photo-ageing skin damage, uneven pigmentation, wrinkles and sagging skin. 
IP Reference WO2011158041 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2011
Licensed Yes
Impact http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/news/industrial-biotechnology/2010/101013-f-towards-quintessential-green-technology.aspx
Description Energy and wastewater 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact • Meeting (PML, PML App. Skill, Llewellyn, Robins, Fileman) with Chairs of SW Water, Wessex Water and SWRDA on microalgal application in waste water treatment. 12th December 2007.
• Presentation and meeting with Devon City Council: 'Photobioreactors and Carbon Footprint Reduction' 18th December 2007

• Meeting with Centrica and SWRDA. Langage Energy Park, Plymouth. 16th Jan 2008
• Meeting with Centrica and SWRDA. Centrica HQ, Windsor. 16th Jan 2008
• Presentation on CO2 sequestration and algal biofuel to two visitors from Japan as representatives of Denso (world leaders in automobile technology) organised by BERR and SWRDA. 25 Jan 2008
• Contribution to DEFRA Discussion paper on GeoMitigation Technologies. 28th Feb 2008

Contributed to increased national interest in algae for applications and products
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2008
Description Policy - climate change, carbon capture and Industrial biotechnology 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact • Written Contribution to House of Commons Inquiry into Renewable Energy - PML and NERC - July 2007.
• PML Presentation to by Sir Gordon Conway, Chief Scientific Adviser for DfID (Department for International Development). 9 October 2007.
• Exhibition of PML's (PML Application Ltd) PBR technology at 6 month exhibition in London Science Museum on Climate Change and Biofuels October 2007- March 2008.

Contributed to growth in area of algal industrial biotechnolgy. Set up of interest in Algal Biotechnology. (AB-SIG) Emergence of an algal biotechnology NIBB.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity Pre-2006,2008
URL http://www.phyconet.org.uk/