2 Mar 2009

Biotech firm eyes algae as growth area

The simple marine organism that causes pond scum will someday be used to make people healthier.

A research team at Ocean Nutrition Canada Ltd. in Dartmouth has found algae along the coast of Nova Scotia capable of providing essential nutrients in quantities sufficient to support commercialization.

Chief executive officer Robert Orr said Friday the fish-oil manufacturer is keeping the lid on most details for competitive reasons.

"There is a lot of research underway in this field around the world. We’ve made significant progress here in Nova Scotia but haven’t been overly public about it," he said.

Ocean Nutrition is preparing a fish-powder plant worth an estimated $23 million in Burnside Park. It is expected to open in a few months, but production will be linked to the health of the food industry."We will see more new food products launched as the economy improves," said Mr. Orr.

When the plant opens, operations will focus on turning oil from anchovies and sardines into fish oil and an omega-3 powder to be used as nutritional supplements to food.

The capacity to produce nutrients would increase significantly if a micro-fermentation process could be used to culture algae.

"We would be going directly to the same algae consumed by the fish to obtain omega-3 fatty acids and other nutritional compounds," Mr. Orr said.

Omega-3 fatty acids from fish are linked to reduced risk of heart disease and improved brain function.

Extracting essential nutrients from fish like anchovies or sardines is a costly process, and the ability to use large volumes of marine algae as a raw product has huge implications for this emerging industry.

Mr. Orr said there is a large body of evidence supporting the health benefits of nutrients found in high proportions in fish, and North Americans eat very little fish, so the future of the industry looks good.

"Omega-3 is to the cells what calcium is to the bones," he said.


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