What are microalgae?
Microalgae (plural form of microalga) are the nature’s tiniest powerhouse. They are 1-50 μm microscopic organisms that live in seawater, freshwater, and even some industrial wastewater. Most microalgae grow through photosynthesis, thus highly relevant to be cultivated in high irradiation locations, e.g., Indonesia. In general, microalgae need light, CO2, and water to produce biomass and O2.
Microalgae have attracted significant interest worldwide due to their extensive application potentials. Many of their derivative products have been scientifically confirmed to be the solution to the increasing demand for sustainable resources. Apart from being a food ingredient, microalgae can also be utilized as raw materials for plastic biopolymers, cosmetics, medicines, biofuels, and other purposes.
Thanks to the considerable benefits, the market of microalgal products is also enormous and continuously expanding. Some of the microalgal active substance that has high economic value includes:
Microalgae naturally contain rich Omega-3 fatty acids. This substance is the primary building block for the production of high-value supplements. Two types of Omega-3 can be obtained from microalgae. They are eicosatetraenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA is generally utilized for raw material in pharmaceutical industries, such as the ingredients for migraine medication, heart disease, asthma, and several other diseases. Similarly, DHA also plays a vital role in the medical field. Based on various scientific reports, DHA is advantageous in supporting fight cancer, preventing heart attacks, lowering cholesterol, increasing the immune system, and removing toxins from the body.
Microalgae produce pigments to absorb light as their energy source. One of the highest chlorophylls producing microalgae is Chlorella sp. Generally, chlorophyll is the primary pigment of microalgae. Chlorophyll is medically beneficial to repair body cells and increase blood hemoglobin. Chlorophyll can also be used as a source of colorant in cosmetics and food. Moreover, several microalgae types are also capable of producing other pigments such as blue pigments (phycocyanin), which are highly nutritious. In the pharmaceutical industry, phycocyanin has been known as an active substance for anti-inflammatory and antioxidants. Furthermore, some other microalgae species accumulate carotenoid compounds as beta-carotenes, astaxanthin, fucoxanthin, and lutein. These active substances have an essential contribution as a vitamin A source, accelerates body fat burning, and is a natural food coloring agent.
One species of microalgae, Spirulina Platensis, is widely known as a source of food supplement that contains high protein (up to 68%) and other vitamins. The protein in spirulina has been scientifically confirmed as higher than meat, soybeans, fish, and eggs. Several other microalgae species, for instance, Chlorella sp. has also been known for its high protein content. Many farmers have been used as natural feed for certain types of shrimp and fish. Moreover, protein-producing microalgae can also be utilized for animal feed supplements to reduce fat and increase meat protein levels.