NUTRACEUTICS | COSMETICS | HEALTHCARE

Microalgae for health

The question of microalgae

What are microalgae?

We’re all familiar with the algae that we find on beaches in the summer, such as seaweed or kelp, collected by farmers who use it as natural fertilizer in the fields of Brittany and Normandy, or else those that we Eat, like nori sheets which are used to wrap the well-known Japanese makis with their beautiful shiny black colour.
But are you familiar with microalgae, those tiny little organisms which are, nonetheless, among the first living beings to appear on Earth? Are they part of the same family as the algae or macroalgae that we see on the beaches? What is their role and above all, how can they be used?
Here are some answers to these questions; you’ll discover that small size can be synonymous with great strength!

How does one differentiate between macro and microalgae?

Algae is the family name common to both very large and very small algae that exist on Earth. They have the shared feature of being able to develop and multiply by photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is this wonderful capacity that plants have to absorb carbon dioxide (or C02) and, with the help of sunlight, water and a few mineral salts where algae is concerned, to release oxygen into our atmosphere. This is how they develop and grow.
To differentiate between macro and microalgae, you have to look at their size and molecular structure, or the way their “body” is built. But before dissecting them, some visual elements make it possible to recognize them.
First, their size. The size of an alga can vary from a few micrometres to several meters and allows them to be classified into two groups:
– Macroalgae, or phytobenthos, are species which attach themselves to the bottom of the water by a thallus, a sort of rootless foot which nevertheless allows them to cling to a support.
– Microalgae, or phytoplankton, which cannot attach themselves and are found in suspension in aquatic environments.
Then, the colour. Algae do not assimilate chlorophyll, a natural green colour resulting from photosynthesis, in the same way; therefore, they have various colours. Thus, macroalgae are broken down into three groups of different colours:
– Green algae or chlorophytes
– Brown algae or chromophytes
– Red algae or rhodophytes.
Microalgae are extremely numerous: around 30,000 species have been identified (out of an estimated total number of over one million), 14,000 of which live in freshwater. Around fifty specimens are currently being studied by scientists including:
– Diatoms
– Flagellates
– Chlorophyceae
– Chrysophyceae
– Cyanophyceae, which are the ones we are going to focus on.

How are they made?

We are going to dissect a microalga to look at its molecular structure, its interior, so to speak. (Diagram to be added)
Most macro and microalgae are eukaryotes, that is, they contain a nucleus that protects the genetic material of the organism.
As for Cyanophyceae, they are prokaryotic organisms, meaning that they don’t have a nucleus and, therefore, fall into the category of bacteria.
Also called blue microalgae, these cyanobacteria are primitive life on Earth, which appeared about 3.5 billion years ago; they are at the origin of life on our planet. They are the first to have used solar energy to transform carbon dioxide and water to release oxygen. So, it’s partly thanks to them that human beings breathe!

What’s their role on Earth? Where are they found?

Microalgae are present everywhere on our planet, they have the ability to adapt to all kinds of environments, even hostile ones, because they are found from Antarctica to the Sahara, at the bottom of oceans or in sources of fresh water.
They, alone, represent two-thirds of terrestrial biomass.

What purpose do they serve?

They are still the main source of oxygen production on Earth today. They represent a real opportunity for human beings. This gives us responsibility for protecting and preserving them. It’s estimated that they produce 70% of all free oxygen on our planet while consuming a tiny amount of natural resources.
Microalgae are the subject of much scientific research because their applications in our daily lives are a real challenge for the future.
They are already found on our plates, the most popular of which are undoubtedly:
– Chlorella, from the Chlorophyceae family, which is found in the form of capsules or powder
– Spirulina, from the Cyanophyceae family, which is found in the form of flakes, capsules or powder in its dry form, and Spirulysat® in its liquid form.
These two microalgae are currently the most cultivated in small-scale or industrial form.
More and more microalgae are also the subject of in-depth studies to exploit the exceptional functional potential they contain. In this context, for almost thirty years AlgoSource has been one of the main European players aiming, for example, to offer the cosmetics sector natural bioactive ingredients for their formulations or to address the healthcare sector with supportive or preventive care that’s perfectly complementary to drug protocols.

Do you have a question?
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