Learn more about Algae
>2 billion years
At the beginning there were just a few microorganisms on our blue planet. These microorganisms were used to metabolizing the atmosphere, which, at that time, consisted of ammonia, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, methane- and sulphuric gases. Plants and animals, like we know them nowadays, developed not until a special form of photosynthesis had been “invented” by cyanobacteria, so-called blue algae: more than 2 billion years ago, blue algae oxygenated the former atmosphere by photosynthesis. Due to their particularly efficient photosynthesis, these microorganisms still transform the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere with the help of the energy of the sun and the consumption of water into sugar and produce oxygen (chemical: O2) as by-product. For many former organisms the new oxygenic atmosphere was toxic, then again other organisms adapted themselves to the new living conditions and changed fundamentally over time. Such complex and large beings, like us humans, would not have been developed without O2. Hence, the formation of the O2-producing photosynthesis was the beginning of our present life on earth, and without algae and plants, animals and humans would not survive.
400.000 species - from dwarf to giant
Scientists estimate the number of algae at 400,000 species, even though just about 40,000 of them are known so far. Algae are distinguished between micro- and macroalgae. Macrolagae can grow up to 100 meters. They live in the oceans and often can be found as seaweed at the beaches. Whereas microalgae are really tiny and cannot be seen with the naked eye. The smallest known alga is just 1µm (pronounced: micrometer), which is 0.0001 centimeter. For comparison: a single, fine hair does have a diameter of about 0.0004 centimeter. The colour of algae is another distinctive feature. Special pigments let the algae look differently coloured. Thus algae are distinguished between brown-, red-, green- and blue algae.
The habitat of algae is as diverse as the algae themselves. They can live in fresh and salty water, in and under the ice and in deserts. One can see algae daily, since they can be found on roof tiles, on paving stones, in puddles and as partner of fungi in lichen on walls and trees. Some algae do even use the fur of sloths as habitat.
Climate saver and primary food source
Algae as saver of the world? Algae are not just important oxygen producers (algae produce about 50 % of the worldwide oxygen demand) and save the climate by absorbing the climate-damaging carbon dioxide. Due to their excellent growth characteristics and their valuable ingredients, like for example vitamins, algae are as well perfectly suitable for the nutrition of the growing world population. Especially in Asian countries, algae have already been an important food source for a long time. On the one hand the world population is continually growing, and on the other hand agricultural land is running short. Whereas algae are very undemanding. They can be grown in salty and in fresh water. Large open ponds as well as closed systems like so-called photobioreactors are possible for their cultivation. Hence, areas in the desert, which are not appropriate for crop plants, can be used for algae.
Algae are interesting, in particular for research. Algae are already used for nutrition, cosmetics and within the pharma industry. A lot of further possible applications of algae are still investigated. Among them is the usage of algae as biofuel for cars and airplanes.
Nutrition and cosmetics
Medicine and pharma industry
Also from a medical point of view, algae do have a substantial benefit. Currently, researchers are investigating ingredients from algae for the cancer therapy or as vaccine against AIDS and are testing them within the laboratory. The blue alga Spirulina is of great interest for medical researchers, since a substance had been detected, which can protect against lip herpes. Whereas brown algae can be used for hypothyroidism, because of their high iodine content. And some microalgae are already tested in first clinical studies as vaccine producer against malaria, among others. Furthermore, alginates from red and brown algae are already used for compresses for wound care.
Bioenergy and fuels
Other research teams focuses on the environmentally friendly and sustainable production of fuels for cars or kerosene for plans by means of algae. For that purpose a few test flights have already been carried out within the scope of a funding project.
The Photobiotechnology group of the RUB is specialized in the production of hydrogen and chemical substances from microalgae. With algal enzymes the team generates bio-based products for the industrial application. Get to know more about the research topics of the scientific partner of SolarBioproducts Ruhr…