The World of Algae

This page of our site is authored entirely by Dr. Mark Edwards.  Professor Edwards is with the Ira A. Fulton School or Engineering’s Environmental Resource Management Program at Arizona State University.  We are indebted to him for allowing us to use his work.  If you wish to read in greater detail, we encourage you to find him on Amazon where most of his published work can be purchased for a nominal price.  You can also stay current on his writings posted on the website for the Algae Industry Magazine.  Go here for his most recent work and use the links below to navigate to an article of choice.

Introduction to Algae

Nano-sized, single-celled algae are among Earth’s earliest life forms. They have been surviving in many of Earth’s harshest environments for 3.7 billion years. Algae’s simplicity enables these plants to be incredibly robust – they not only survive but produce high-value biomass in tough environments. In good cultivation conditions, algae produce protein and energy biomass with yields that are 30 to 100 times more productive per acre than land plants.

Algae are critical to life on Earth as they produce the organic matter at the base of the food chain. The biomass is eaten by everything from the tiniest krill to the great blue whales. Algae also produce most of the oxygen needed for other aquatic life and provide about 70% of our daily atmosphere oxygen.

Algae, the Latin name for seaweed, present themselves in all shapes and sizes. Microalgae are single-celled, microscopic organisms often smaller than 5µ (microns) wide. The period at the end of this sentence is about 100µ.

Algae grow all over the Earth, including under both ice caps. Their preferred environments are in damp places or water but algae are common on land as well as in aquatic environments. Soils, rocks, trees and ice contain dried algae cells and many are still viable. Various algae species grow in all kinds of water which makes them excellent for pollution control.

Seaweeds make up about 10% of algae and are larger species that live in marine environments such as kelps; brown seaweeds that may grow to 180 feet. Seaweeds may appear to have trunks and leaves similar to land plants but these structures are actually undifferentiated cells called pseudo-leaves. In tropical regions, coralline algae help build corals and support the formation of coral reefs and other species live in symbiosis with sponges.


Kelp, diatom and fibrous green algae

Away from the oceans, most algae live not in waterways but in soils. Algae live symbiotically in the roots of land plants where they break down soil compounds and make the nutrients bioavailable to the plants. The blue-green algae also known as cyanobacteria also serve crops by fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere in root nodules or directly on plant surfaces. Many plains, mountains and deserts are covered with algae crusts that hold soil in place, provide a foundation for plants with roots and hold critical soil moisture.

Various algae maximize different components. Some species offer over 50% lips (oil), others 60% protein and others 90% carbohydrates. The food product, protein, of some species has little natural smell or taste so the product may take on the characteristics desired such as any smell, color, texture, density or taste. Blind taste tests between algae and soy beans favor algae because algae do not have the bitter, starchy taste of unprocessed soy. Like food grains, algae biomass benefits from food processing to maximize taste, texture, color and mouth appeal.

Algae are very efficient at converting light, water and carbon into biomass containing oily compounds called lipids that may be extracted and processed into gasoline, green diesel or jet fuel. The remaining biomass, mostly protein and carbohydrate, may be made into foods, medicines, vaccines, minerals, animal feed, fertilizers, pigments, salad dressings, ice cream, puddings, laxatives and skin creams. An example algae composition shows an algae species where 40% of the plant biomass is oil.

Lipids are substances that dissolve in organic solvents but do not dissolve in water.

A 10 pound algae biomass with 4 pounds of lipids may produce slightly less than 1 pound of fuel due to gums and ash that are refined out of the lipids to make clean biofuels, foods or cosmetics. The residual biomass includes protein, carbohydrates and some moisture and ash. 

Fat algae, also called oleaginous algae, are species that produce large quantities of lipids. Green algae may not look like a biocrude oil feedstock but the petroleum used in today’s vehicles is derived from prehistoric biomass which came largely from algae blooms in ancient wetlands and oceans.

Nature’s biomass decomposition began over 200 million years ago in the Carboniferous Period under conditions of enormous heat and pressure. Oil pumped from the North Sea consists of decomposed haptophyte algae called coccolithophorids. Algae also make up the major components of diatomaceous Earth, coal shale and coal. The Egyptians built their pyramids with limestone formed from algae.

The 30-100 times annual yield per acre energy productivity advantage for algae occurs largely due to the differences between terrestrial and water-based plants. Algae express themselves in a nearly limitless number of species and strains which makes them a unique organism. Several key characteristics differentiate algae from terrestrial plants.

Algae are water-based organisms that grow in fresh, saline, brackish, seawater or wastewater. Land plants require fresh water for growth because large salt ions clog their plumbing, root system, starving the plant of water and nutrients. Algae flourish in saline water because they evolved in very salty ancient oceans. Salt lions pose no problem for algae because algae have no roots.

Algae developed critical growth, propagation and survival strategies in their several billion years on Earth. By contrast, land plants evolved from algae only 500 million years ago. In the time land plants grow through one generation in a growing season, algae may propagate through several thousand generations. Algae are different from land plants in many ways.

Algae’s Competitive Advantages

Superstructure. Land plants invest a large portion of their energy in building cellulosic structure, including trunk, leaves and stems to withstand wind and weather. Algae have no such requirement. Water support algae like a natural womb.

Sex. Land plants invest 35% of their energy in building and supporting their sexual apparatus. Algae are simple, single-celled organisms that do not have to bother with sexual structures. When conditions are good, algae propagate sexually. When a stressor arises, the cells can proliferate asexually.

Roots. Land plants invest 25% of their energy in roots which lock them in place and make the plants dependent on in situ soil moisture and bioavailable nutrients, typically provided by soil microbes, including algae. Algae have no roots and some species grow flagella which they can wiggle to move to nutrients or solar energy.

Growth speed. Land plants such as food grains require a full growing season from spring to fall – often 140 days or more to produce a single crop. Algae learned to flourish when nourished and can grow to maturity quickly. An alga may produce over a million offspring in a single day.

Direction. Land plants grow slowly in one direction, towards the sun and may double their biomass in 10 days. Then they progressively slow growth to maturity. Algae grow in all directions, 360°, and may triple or quadruple its biomass daily.
Continuous harvest. Algae grow so rapidly, half of the algae biomass may be harvested daily. Harvest may occur every day the sun shines, which may be 360 days a year in locations such as Arizona and New Mexico.

Continuous growing season. Some algae producers are growing algae year-round using species adapted for each season. Some producers use grow lights to augment solar energy. Several producers are experimenting with LED and other forms of light to extend growth beyond daylight hours.

Robust production. A single event during an entire growing season such as temperature spike, drought, insects, wind or hail can devastate a entire food grain crop. When bad weather occurs, algae take a rest and slow down their growth rate or go into dormancy. When the weather improves, algae resume their rapid growth.

Nitrogen fixation. Blue-green algae known as cyanobacteria are able to fix oxygen from the atmosphere which promotes growth because nitrogen is often the limiting nutrient in stationary water.

Composition. Land plant green biomass such as corn may be 90% non-oil or waste because most of the plant composition is cellulosic structure rather than protein for food or energy producing oils. Some strains of algae produce 50% lipids – oils that can be converted directly to jet fuels or green diesel.

Stored energy. Land plants such as corn can be converted to ethanol that burns with less heat and provides only 64% of the MPG of gasoline. Algae convert sunshine, CO2 and other nutrients to long carbon chains that can be converted to more powerful liquid transportation fuels such as JP-8, jet fuel and green diesel that may have 30 to 50% more energy per gallon than gasoline.

Plentiful and cheap inputs. Unlike land plants, algae can grow with resources that are abundant and will not run out including sunshine, wastewater and surplus CO2.

Ecologically positive. Food production on cropland creates significant greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere, soil erosion as well as nutrient and chemical runoff that pollute wetlands, rivers and lakes. Algae cultivation emits only oxygen to the atmosphere while sequestering CO2 and avoids soil erosion and ecosystem pollution.

Geographical independence. Unlike land crops, numerous algae species grow in the harshest environments on Earth. In closed and semi-closed growing systems, algae can be grown in nearly any altitude, latitude, longitude or geography.

Algae are robust organisms that offer many advantages compared with land-based crops. Algae remain the most underdeveloped organism on Earth. Domesticating algae to gain its many benefits presents one of the most engaging challenges of the 21st century.

Adapted from: Green Algae Strategy: End Oil Imports and Engineer Sustainable Food and Fuel, 2008.

Algae Classifications and Colors

Algae are living plants that break the rules for plant classification because they evolved in many different forms – cells, multicellular plants, bacteria and in nearly infinite combinations. While the various species share certain characteristics, different algae, even of the same species, display extraordinary variety in shape, size, structure, composition and color.

A single algae species may change shape, composition and color in a single day based on culture variables such as available light energy, nutrients, temperature and acidity, pH. Similar to all living organisms, when algae are stressed, they switch to survival mode, which changes the speed and composition of cellular metabolism. Stressors may cause algae to store more oil at the expense of proteins or carbohydrates, to use for energy at a later time. Some algae seem to accumulate more oil in order to rise to the top of the water column where they can harvest more solar energy.

The classification of algae into taxonomic groups follows the same rules used for the classification of land plants. Land plant classification came before algae because many nano-sized algae species could not be seen prior to advanced microscopes. The major algae groups are distinguished on the basis of pigmentation, shape, structure, cell wall composition, flagella characteristics, products stored and method of propagation. Algae display so many variations, even within each species, that they express exceptions to nearly every classification rule. Interestingly, many species can change the way they propagate based on ambient conditions. When conditions are good, they propagate sexually. When conditions degrade, they are able to use one or more asexual methods such as cell division, fragmentation or spores.

The ability to see minute differences in algae cells with the electron microscope has changed classifications substantially since the 1960s. Classification changes continue as new differentiators are discovered.

Algae are differentiated from other plants because they generally:

  • Display the ability to perform photosynthesis with the production of molecular oxygen, which is associated with the presence of chlorophyll a, b or c;
  • Do not have specialized transport tissues or organs consisting of interconnected cells that move nutrients and metabolites among different sites within the organism;
  • Reproduce sexually or asexually to produce gametes that generally are not surrounded by protective multicellular parental tissue.

Land plants evolved from algae about 500 million years ago and evolved specialized cells for absorbing and moving nutrients and for reproduction. Algae are distinguished from the higher plants by a lack of true roots, stems or leaves. Some seaweed such as kelp appear to have leaves, but they are pseudo leaves made up of the same cellular structure as the rest of the plant. Scientists believe microalgae and seaweeds developed in parallel evolution with land plants.

Algae species culture collections are available at The University of Toronto, California Academy of Sciences, University of Texas, University of Copenhagen, the Scottish Marine institute, The Chinese Academy of Sciences , the University of Prague and the World Federation of Culture Collections. Most collections provide composition and culturing information, culture sales, descriptive details and pictures. The Algae Image Laboratory run by Dr. Rex Lowe at Bowling Green offers digital images of algae at no charge for educational purposes.

Many species are single-celled and microscopic including phytoplankton and other microalgae while others are multicellular and may grow as tall as trees such as kelp. Phycology, the study of algae, includes the study of prokaryotic forms known as blue-green algae or cyanobacteria. Some algae also live in symbiosis with lichens, corals and sponges. The basic single-celled organism, algae, has the general appearance illustrated in the figure.

Algae Cell

Eukaryotic green algae (Greek for “true nut”) plants are structured like a nut with a shell protecting their genetic material which is arranged in organelles. Green algae create discrete structures with specific functions and have a double membrane-bound nucleus or nuclei. The prokaryotic cells of blue-green algae, cyanobacteria, contain no nucleus or other membrane-bound organelles.

Algae can be lively little critters even though they are not animals. Many can swim such as dinoflagellates that have little whip-like structures called flagella, which pull or push them through the water. Some algae squish part of their body forward and crawl along solid surfaces. A few algae can even form eye buds that can detect light, which is critical for their energy supply.

Other species are made of fine filaments with cells joined from end to end. Some clump together to form colonies while others float independently. Seaweeds may grow in nearly any shape such as cones, tubes, filaments or circles. Algae form many more shapes than land plants and may change the shape or structure to adapt to local conditions. Major steps in cell complexity occurred with the evolutionary progression from a virus to bacterium and then from the prokaryotic cells of bacteria to the eukaryotic cells of algae. Cell walls enable algae to protect itself from the surrounding environment, typically water and pressure, called osmotic pressure.


Algae Cell Walls

Cell walls regulate osmotic pressure produced by water trying to flow in or out of the cell through its semi-permeable membranes due to a differential in the solution concentrations. Algae typically possess cell walls constructed of cellulose, glycoproteins and polysaccharides. Some species have a cell wall composed of silicic (silicon) or alginic acid.

Red algae, for example, are a large group of about 10,000 species of mostly multicellular, marine algae, including seaweed. These include coralline algae which live symbiotically with corals, secrete calcium carbonate and play a major role in building coral reefs. Red algae such as dulse (Palmaria palmata) and laver (nori or gim) are a traditional part of European and Asian cuisine and are used to make other products such as agar, carrageenans and other food additives.

  • Bacillariophyta – diatoms
  • Charophyta – stoneworts
  • Chlorophyta – green algae
  • Chrysophyta – golden algae


  • Cyanobacteria – blue-green
  • Dinophyta – dinoflagellates
  • Phaeophyta – brown algae
  • Rhodophyta – red algae


Diatoms, stoneworts and dinoflagellates


Green algae evolved with chloroplasts which enables photosynthesis and greatly enhances available O2. Blue-green algae have received most of the recent research because many scientists trained in bacteria research have begun studying the commercial value of the plant classified as both a blue-green algae and bacteria; cyanobacteria.

Prochlorococcus, a blue-green algae may be the smallest organism on Earth, only 0.6 microns (millionths of a meter), but is one of the most abundant organisms on the planet. A single drop of water may contain more than 100,000 of these single-celled organisms. Sallie Chisholm at MIT studies Prochlorococcus and says that trillions of these tiny cells make up invisible forests and provide about half the photosynthesis in the oceans.


Taxonomic Group Chlorophyll Carotenoids Storage products
Bacillariophyta a, c β-carotene
± -carotene rarelyfucoxanthin
(green algae)
a, b β-carotene,
± -carotene
rarely carotene
and lycopene,
Starch, oils
(golden algae)
a, c β-carotene,
(blue green algae)
a, c β-carotene,
(brown algae)
a, c β-carotene, ±
Laminarin, soluble
carbohydrates, oils
a, c β-carotene,
Starch, oils
(red algae )
a, rarely d β-carotene,zeaxanthin
± β carotene
Floridean starch,


The green often associated with algae comes from chlorophyll but algae also contain pigments of many colors, especially cyan, red, orange, yellow, blue and brown. Some varieties are colorless. Green algae appears green because green is the only color of light it does not absorb. Red algae absorb a full spectrum of colors and reflect red. Red algae can grow deeper in the oceans than most other species because they are equipped to absorb the blue light that penetrates deep in the ocean.

Algae use pigments to capture sunlight for photosynthesis but each pigment reacts with only a narrow range of the spectrum. Therefore, algae produce a variety of pigments of different colors to capture more of the sun’s energy. Algae channels light into chlorophyll a, which converts light energy into high energy bonds of organic molecules.

Green, Blue and Red Algae

Algae provide color to herbivores that feast on them. Algae give the greenish cast to the white fur of the well-known giant sloth. Algae live in the hollow hairs of polar bears and provide the pink pigment for flamingos, which they consume in both shrimp and algae. Similar algae carotenoids give the pink pigmentation to salmon.

Arizona’s Palo Verde nuclear power plant attracted a pink flamingo to its cooling ponds several years ago. The poor bird turned white and created worldwide press speculation about possible radiation leaks. Fortunately, a biologist figured out the ponds lacked sufficient beta-carotene in the algae to sustain the bird’s pink coloration. The flamingo flew to another pond with algae and quickly regained its pinkness.

Algae may grow in symbiosis with fungus to create lichen – the colorful rough material on the sunny side of rocks and trees. Algae and the fungus share a mutual dependence as the algae produces food for both plants and in exchange, gets water and minerals from the fungus. The fungus also provides critical protection against desiccation – drying and dying in the sun.

The use of algae-lichen plants for pigments and dyes pre-dates Julius Caesar. The classic red color of Roman tunics came from pigments extracted from lichens known as urchilles. Roman women valued the plant and used it as rouge to give their faces more color. Nearly all modern cosmetics contain algae components to improve color, emulsification and/or moisture retention.

Mark Edwards, Adapted from: Green Algae Strategy: End Oil Imports and Engineer Sustainable Food and Fuel, 2008.

Algae Species Selection

Algae producers select specific algae strains for valuable compounds grown in the algae biomass. Algae biomass includes primarily lipids, used to produce biofuel, proteins for food, feed and nutraceuticals and starches and carbohydrates that can be made into a litany of products.

Lipids are long carbon chain molecules that store energy for the plant and serve as the structural components of cell membranes. Lipids are oils that make the plant more buoyant so that it moves up the water column towards solar energy. Some algae species are naturally very high in lipid production, e.g. 80% by dry weight, but they grow very slowly. Other species grow very fast and naturally store about 20% lipids but when stressed with nutrient limitation, store about 40% lipids.

Proteins are large organic compounds made of amino acids, arranged in a linear chain connected by peptide bonds. The plant’s genetic code determines the sequence of the amino acids but nutrient limitations may cause changes to the production of amino acids. Most proteins are enzymes that catalyze biochemical reactions and plant metabolism. Other proteins maintain cell shape and provide signaling functions within the plant.

Algae use photosynthesis and solar energy to produce glucose from carbon dioxide. The glucose is stored mainly in the form of starch granules, in plastids such as chloroplasts and amyloplasts. Algae can make water soluble glucose, plant sugar, but it consumes considerable space. Algae adapted the capability to make glucose in the form of starch, complex carbohydrates that are not soluble and store compactly. Starch is the most important carbohydrate in the human diet and algae carbohydrates can substitute for food grain flours such as corn, wheat, potatoes or rice. Starches may also be fermented into a wide variety of alcohols or biofuels.

The path forward based on the experience of other research in algae production shows that robust algae species for biofuel production need the following properties:

  • Produces high and constant lipid content.
  • Grows continuously which requires overcoming the stability problem common to algae cultures.
  • Demonstrates high photosynthetic efficiency.
  • Grows with seasonal climatic differences and daily changes in temperatures.
  • Creates minimal fouling from attachment to sides or bottom of containers.
  • Easy to harvest and to extract lipids with soft or flexible cell walls.

Algae growers may select and buy species from culture collections available at The University of Toronto,California Academy of Sciences, University of Texas, University of Copenhagen, the Scottish Marine institute, The Chinese Academy of Sciences , the University of Prague and the World Federation of Culture Collections. . Most collections will provide culture sales, composition and pictures. The Algae Gallery at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History includes considerable information on algae and links to algae sites.

The composition variation among species varies tremendously. Some algae hold 80% lipids while others produce 60% protein and still others are 92% carbohydrates. Species selection is critical not just for the desired composition but for a host of structure and growth variables that vary widely across species and strains.

Composition Variation across Algae species

When algae are nutrient limited, such as nitrogen, phosphorous or sulfur, they decrease production of essential polyunsaturated fatty acids and may yield lower quality protein with fewer amino acids. Nutrient deprivation may cause algae to increase lipid production but typically slows or halts propagation and growth. Bioengineers are working on algae that increase lipids without nutrient deprivation. Several research labs have created GM algae strains that secrete oil without harvest, enabling continuous production. Avoiding harvest and oil extraction eliminate huge time and cost factors.

Algae varieties offer an almost limitless combination of features. Special attributes are being enhanced through selection screens for naturally occurring organisms, bioengineering and hybridization. Algae experts like Drs. Milton Summerfeld and Gerry Brand have invested many decades in searching wetlands, lakes and deserts for naturally occurring algae that demonstrate desirable properties. Dr. Bruce Rittmann has worked on genetically modifying algae to produce more oil or other advanced compounds. Many algae producers have worked to hybridize algae strains by cross fertilization in order to maximize desirable growth characteristics, ease of harvest and extraction and desirable compounds.

Each algae species offers a different proportion of lipids, starches and proteins, Table 1. Some algae are high in protein and others are mostly starches or lipids. Variations in culturing may substantially change algae biomass composition.

Algae Lipids Protein Carbohydrates
Anabaena cylindrica 4–7 43–56 25–30
Aphanizomenon flos-aqua 3 62 23
Arthrospira maxima 6–7 60–71 13–16
Botryococcus braunii 86 4 20
Chlamydomonas rheinhar. 21 48 17
Chlorella ellipsoidea 84 5 16
Chlorella pyrenoidosa 2 57 26
Chlorella vulgaris 14–22 51–58 12–17
Dunaliella salina 6 57 32
Euglena gracilis 14–20 39–61 14–18
Prymnesium parvum 22-38 30-45 25-33
Porphyridium cruentum 9-14 28–39 40–57
Scenedesmus obliquus 12–14 50–56 10–17
Spirulina platensis 4-6 46-630 8-14
Spirulina maxima 6-7 60-71 13-16
Spirogyra sp. 11­­­­­­–21 6–20 33–64
Spirulina platensis 4–9 46–63 8–14
Synechococcus sp. 11 63 15


Composition of Various Algae (% of dry matter)

Algae-oils are extremely high in unsaturated fatty acids and various algae-species provide:

  • Linoleic acid, an unsaturated omega-6 fatty acid used for soaps, emulsifiers, quick-drying oils and a wide variety of beauty aids. The moisture retention properties are valued skin remedies used for smoothing and moisturizing, as an anti-inflammatory and for acne reduction.
  • Arachidonic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid also found in peanut oil. This product moderates inflammation and plays an important role in the operation of the central nervous system.
  • Eicospentaenoic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid and gives the same benefits as fish oil, which of course come from algae. Research suggests that EPA may improve brain activity, reduce depression and moderate suicidal behavior.
  • Docasahexaenoic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid generally found in fish oil and is the most abundant fatty acid found in the brain and retina. DHA deficiency is associated with cognitive decline and increase neural cell death. DHA is depleted in the cerebral cortex of severely depressed patients.
  • Gamma-linolenic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid found in vegetable oil and was first extracted from the evening primrose. It is sold as a dietary supplement for treating problems with inflammation and auto-immune diseases. Research is ongoing on its therapeutic value for cancer to suppress tumor growth and metastasis.

Algae components are commonly found in food ingredients. A normal family that uses normal dairy products may find 70% of the items in their food shopping cart contain algae ingredients. Carrageenans that make up the cell walls of several species of red and brown seaweeds are a family of linear polysaccharides. The carrageenan cell-wall material is a colloid, used as a stabilizer or emulsifier and is commonly present in dairy and bakery products.

Agar. This substance, a polysaccharide, solidifies almost anything that is liquid. Agar is a colloidal agent used for thickening, suspending, and stabilizing. However, it is best noted for its unique ability to form thermally reversible gels at low temperatures. Agar has been used in China since the 17th century and is currently produced in Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and Morocco.




Today, agar serves scientist globally as a gelatin-like medium for growing organisms in scientific and medical studies. Agar is used extensively in the pharmaceutical industry as a laxative or as an inert carrier for drug products where slow release of the drug is required. Bacteriology and mycology use agar as a stiffening agent in growth media.

Agar also is used as a stabilizer for emulsions and as a constituent of cosmetic skin preparations, ointments, and lotions. It is used in photographic film, shoe polish, dental impression molds, shaving soaps, hand lotions, and in the tanning industry. In food, agar is used as a substitute for gelatin, as an anti-drying agent in breads and pastries and also for gelling and thickening. Agar is used in the manufacture of processed cheese, mayonnaise, puddings, creams, jellies and in the manufacture of frozen dairy products.

Nori, the Japanese word for seaweed, is popular around the world but especially in Asia where it is served with a variety of names such as kombu, wakame, hai dai, laminaria and limu. Scottish cooks call it dulse and the Irish call their product dillisk. Amanori is specifically those foods made from the Porphyra species because it contains essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals. In Korea, Porphyra, is known as kim or lavor. It provides healthy foods that are free of the sugars and fats that are associated with the Western diet.

Wild populations of inland, freshwater algae have been collected and consumed since prehistoric times for their fresh taste and nutrient value. One of the most common, nostoc consists of long beaded chains and forms a gelatinous aggregation of filaments. The individual filaments are microscopic but aggregations occur as globules of all sizes and look similar to grapes.

The microscopic filaments of Spirulina do not form oval globules but often mass into floating clumps that are pushed against the shore by wind. Other algae species appear as threads of free floating masses or filaments clinging to rocks in fast moving water. Spirulina, in powdered form, leads most conventional foods in both total and usable protein. Only poultry and fish are superior with more than 45% usable protein. Spirulina matches meat and dairy products with 30% to 45% protein. Spirulina and nostoc offer more protein by weight than any other vegetable. Earthrise Nutritionals produces 600 tons of Spirulina each year at its 100 acre farm in Southern California.

Algae species selection will continue to be a critical issue for algae producers because the right species choice enhances cultivation, harvest, extraction and the value of products produced. Fortunately, the algae species collections offer extensive information on species in their collections and make those species reliably available at modest cost.

Mark Edwards,
Adapted from: Green Algae Strategy: End Oil Imports and Engineer Sustainable Food and Fuel, 2008.

About Algae Omega-3’s

Algae omega-3 fatty acids provide significant health and development benefits during life in the womb. Health and cognitive benefits for omega-3s continue throughout life.

Essential fatty acids are fatty acids critical to the good health and development of fetuses and newborns. Fetal life and early infancy are the periods of rapid brain, eyes, heart, respiratory, central nervous system, and immune system development and maturation. Omega-3s enhance these growth phases and help children avoid major organ disorders. Newborns may get omega-3 fatty acids from mother’s milk, (if the mother absorbs omega-3s in her diet), from the child’s diet, or from supplements.

Neither humans nor animals can synthesize omega-3 oils because bodies lack the desaturase enzymes required for their production. Therefore, if the mother’s diet is deficient in omega-3s, the infant will not benefit from the essential early growth and development support from long chain fatty acids.

Clinical signs of essential fatty acid deficiency include a dry scaly rash, decreased growth in infants and children, slow or abnormal brain, eye and heart development, increased susceptibility to infection and poor wound healing. Fatty acid deficiency causes pathologies similar to malnutrition.

Most foods contain some fat, even vegetables, because fats play a critical role in metabolism. Fat provides a reliable source of energy as well as an effective depot for stored energy. Fats play an important role in cell membranes, helping to govern nutrients that enter and exit cells during metabolism. When incorporated into phospholipids, fatty acids affect cell membrane properties such as fluidity, flexibility, permeability, and the activity of membrane bound enzymes.

Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and may help lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. Omega-3s are highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be important for cognitive (brain memory and performance) and behavioral function. Studies have shown that infants who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are at risk for developing vision, brain and nerve problems. Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings or depression, and poor circulation.

In a recent study, prenatal algae DHA supplementation— 600 mg DHA taken from 14 weeks gestation until delivery—increased DHA blood levels in both the mother and the newborn, as well as increased infant birth weight, length, and head circumference. The DHA supplements improved fetus growth and organ development significantly. Other studies have found that prenatal DHA deficiency may limit infants’ development potential.

The DHA Intake and Measurement of Neural Development (DIAMOND) study found that supplementation with DHA and ARA omega fatty acids from 18 months to six years of age provided significant cognitive benefits. DIAMOND also found that DHA supplementation provided developmental benefits evident to six years of age.

Algae polyphenol extracts have anti-diabetic effects through the modulation of glucose-induced oxidative stress. The extracts slow starch-digestive enzymes such as alpha-amylase and alpha-glucosidase.  The plentiful soluble dietary fibers in algae help avoid obesity and diabetes. The total fiber content of several algae species, (~6 g/100g), is greater than that of fruits and vegetables promoted today for their fiber content: prunes (2.4 g), cabbage (2.9 g), apples (2.0 g), and brown rice (3.8 g).

The body uses cholesterol as the starting point to make estrogen, testosterone, vitamin D, and other vital compounds. Fats also serve as biologically active molecules that influence how muscles respond to insulin. Various forms of fats, especially Omega-3s, can accelerate or cool down inflammation.

Long chained polyunsaturated fatty acids, (PUFA) eicosapentaenoic acid, EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid, DHA, manage and moderate inflammation and many other cellular functions. These fats influence signaling in cells and the brain and therefore affect mood and behavior.

The US National Institute of Health’s MedlinePlus lists many medical conditions for which EPA alone, or in concert with other omega-3 sources, is known or thought to be an effective treatment. Most medical interventions derive from omega-3 oils’ ability to lower inflammation or enhance cell signaling.


Omega-3s are often obtained in the human diet by eating oily fish or fish oil— e.g., cod liver, herring, mackerel, salmon, menhaden and sardine. It is also found in human breast milk. Fish do not synthesize Omega-3s, but concentrate it from the algae they consume. Omega-3 rich microalgae are cultivated as a commercial source by a few companies such as Martek and Algae Biosciences. Microalgae, and supplements derived from algae, are excellent sources of EPA and DHA, since fish often contain toxins such as mercury and pesticides due to pollution.

DHA comprises 40% of the polyunsaturated fatty acids in the brain and 60% of the PUFAs in the retina. Fifty percent of the weight of a neuron’s plasma membrane is composed of DHA. DHA is selectively incorporated into retinal cell membranes and postsynaptic neuronal cell membranes, where it plays important roles in vision and nervous system function. DHA is richly supplied during breastfeeding, and DHA levels are high in breast milk. In humans, DHA is either obtained from the diet or synthesized from eicosapentaenoic acid, (EPA).

Cognitive development
Children that are not exposed to omega-3s in the womb display a significant mental deficit that persists throughout their lives. The human brain requires Omega-3 oils for normal growth and development.

Review studies suggest that omega-3s positively affect pre-natal neurodevelopment. However, this cognitive-enhancing effect sometimes diminishes post-natally with maturation. Few studies have examined the cognitive effects of omega-3s through childhood, young adulthood, and middle age. At later ages, multiple studies found evidence suggesting that omega-3s can protect against neurodegeneration and possibly reduce the chance of developing cognitive impairment.

Several variables confound PUFA supplements including heredity, diet, mother’s health, and socioeconomics. Supplement treatments in medical studies typically use 1,000 mg of omega-3 per day.

Another important finding is that too much omega-6 oil (found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds), in the diet may interfere with the action of omega-3. Omega-6 seems to compete with Omega-3 PUFA for the desaturase enzymes. Therefore, medical researchers suggest that maximum value of omega-3 supplements will occur if the diet minimizes omega-6 intake.

Omega-3 fatty acids can enhance fetal life and give children a better start in life with stronger brains, eyes, hearts and respiratory systems. Pregnant women and nursing mothers have the opportunity to gift strong cognitive development to their newborns with either several servings of fish per week or the recommended 1,000 mg of omega-3 supplements per day.

Secrets of Algae Therapeutic Solutions

Algae provide hundreds of active therapeutic compounds that benefit nearly every human and animal medical condition. This should be no surprise since plants and animals have depended on algae to sustain their growth, development and health for over 2 billion years.

All living cells evolved from algae. Animals have relied on algae for eons to provide the essential nutrients, vitamins and trace elements to support the healthy cellular metabolism required for an active life. Cellular metabolism evolved to take advantage of the nutrients and energy delivered by algae. Algae compounds support health at the cellular level by helping to regulate energy, neurological signaling, blood pressure and viral and bacterial threats. Systemic illnesses such as obesity, diabetes, digestion, heart, eye, skin or respiratory diseases would have terminated animal evolution eons before early hominoids appeared. Therefore, algae had to offer dietary nutrients that enabled health and vitality.

Algae micronutrients, antioxidants and trace elements avoid nutrient deficiencies. These compounds facilitate hormone release; regulate body temperature and balance brain chemistry. Algae compounds facilitate healthy functioning of all the major systems, especially the brain, eyes, immunity and heart.

Cell size
Algae’s diminutive stature creates a big advantage. Algae are tiny, about five µ (microns). The period at the end of this sentence is about 20 µ. Small is beautiful for easy absorption and assimilation by the body. Algae’s tiny cell size allows consumers to receive nutrients that are immediately bioavailable. Land plants must survive in challenging environments where most the cells are specialized for structure and lack the nutrient density necessary for food.

Nutrients in land plants are attached to larger cells that the body must break down through digestion. Depending on the food, as much as 80% of the nutrients stay locked into the biomass and pass right through the body. In the case of elephants, most the nutrients pass through the gut and create a poo pile containing over 95% of the original plant nutrients.

Algae’s second secret is nutralence – each tiny alga cell packs a full set of essential nutrients that are easily digested. Each alga cell grows and reproduces independently, creating significantly higher nutrient density than terrestrial crops. Algae deliver significantly more micronutrients than land crops and the nutrient density is two to five times higher. Terrestrial plants must invest 90% of their energy in nonfood producing components including roots, stock, stems, leafs and seed coverings. Typically, only the seed (or fruit) offers food value. The nutrients are more diluted and not as bioavailable since they form a matrix with cellulosic compounds that impede digestion.

A three-meter corn stalk, including roots may weigh a kilogram. This huge biomass provides only 3 grams of protein stored as a fraction of the kernels on the cob. A kilogram of algae may contain 60% protein, or a yield of 600 grams of protein. Most of the cellulosic material land plants use for structure goes to waste in terms of food. Cows provide a good model for nutrient absorption.

Cows are ruminants, which means they have four stomachs to aid digestion. A cow’s digestive system evolved to eat grasses, not corn. However, feedlots fatten 650-pound heifers and steers with an additional 400 pounds before slaughter with a diet of corn. This 6 month corn diet adds fat and meat marbling but causes massive digestive and liver problems for the cow. Factory farms feed the cows a constant dose of antibiotics to allow the animals to survive long enough to reach slaughter weight.

A USDA team led by Fred Barrows has reported digestibility results:

Fish have the same digestive problem with food grains as cows and must be fed antibiotics to survive. Barrows’ team completed a broad series of feeding trails and found the fish flourished on a partial algae diet. The fish digested nutrients from algae quickly, grew faster and exhibited higher survival rates. The fish meat was superior to grain fed fish in color, texture and taste. The algae-fed fish did not require antibiotics to sustain good health. The algae diet required less food input for weight gain and produced significantly less fecal waste, which means the fish were assimilating nutrients more efficiently.

Micronutrients include all the elements commonly found in plants plus vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and trace elements. Algae secrets to health solutions include the following factors.

Algae may contain over twice the total number of micronutrients as land crops with two to five times the nutrient density. Algae often contain healthy antioxidants, such as omega-3 fatty acids that are not found in terrestrial crops.

Algae cost benefits
In addition to the health advantages, algae offer economic benefits. Medical compounds grown today in plants and animals have three disadvantages, development time, growth time and compound density. A vaccine grown in cow’s milk may take a decade to develop. Cows start producing milk in two years so production time is long. The target compound in milk is low, often less than 1%, which means farmers must produce tons of milk to make the vaccine.

Compounds produced in algae offer a development time of weeks rather than years. Growth time is days versus months. Compound density may be 5% or higher in dry weight algae, which means medicine production is faster and less expensive.

Algae prevent disease
Algae compounds prevent disease by providing the essential nutrients for sustained health and vitality. Algae contain high multiples of the nutrients that cause the major nutrient deficiencies globally. Algae contain several times more beta-carotene (provitamin A) than other foods. Doctors and dietitians recommend algae powder as a source of beta-carotene in dietary supplements and functional foods. Algae are rich in antioxidant vitamins (C and E), in concentrations far higher than land plants. Vitamin C helps people avoid scurvy. Vitamin E moderates neurological problems due to poor nerve conduction and anemia due to oxidative damage to red blood cells.

Algae are a good source of all seven B vitamins, including vitamin B12. Algae are unique as a plant source of vitamin B12. Doctors and dieticians recommend algae, particularly nori, as a dietary supplement for vegetarians who desire to obtain vitamin B12 from a natural, non-animal source.

Algae provide a mineral profile superior to that of land plants, milk, eggs or soybeans. Minerals in terrestrial foods such as food grains have minerals such as iron bound up in phytic acid complexes, limiting their bioavailability. These complexes cannot be absorbed into the blood stream and pass through the body. Studies show iron absorption significantly higher for algae compared to rice.

Algae are also rich in iodine and selenium, critical trace elements that are highly variable in food supplies by geographic region. These minerals have been associated with endemic deficiency disorders throughout history. Algae concentrate these trace minerals and only small amounts of algae (one tablespoon of dried algae) provide sufficient levels of these nutrients when introduced into the diet. Consumers may extract vitamins and nutrients from non-digestible algae by chewing algae similar to chewing gum.

Algae have a high content of glutamic acid that stimulates taste receptors with umami, (savory or hearty), amplifying taste differentiation and the desire to consume algae for its good taste.


Algae medical treatments

Peer-reviewed scientific research provides algae-based medical solutions for the following health challenges. Algae prevent or remediate nutrient deficiencies. Algae compounds are used for medical treatments to restore healthy functioning to major organs and major body systems. Algae compounds offer therapeutic benefit in the treatment of many diseases.

Land crops provide compounds from roughly 200,000 species. Algae grow compounds from possibly 10 million species. Which source offers the most potential for new advanced medical compounds?

Global Nutrient Deficiency Solutions

One Tablespoon a Day
The four most prevalent deficiency diseases globally in 2013 are: malnutrition, nutritional anemia (iron and B12 deficiency), xerophthalmia (vitamin A deficiency), and endemic goiter (iodine deficiency). These algae therapeutic solutions are based on recent empirical medical research, including field studies in developing countries. One tablespoon of algae a day can relieve these and other nutrient deficiencies, including vitamin B, C, D, E and K.

Algae synthesize all essential vitamins, which make algae a popular food for its many consumers. One hundred times more animals eat algae than any other food probably because each cell is a treasure trove of essential nutrients, vitamins, antioxidants and minerals.

Algae absorb a wealth of mineral elements that concentrate as about one third of its dry biomass. The mineral macronutrients include sodium, calcium, magnesium, potassium, chlorine, sulfur and phosphorus while the micronutrients include iodine, iron, zinc, copper, selenium, molybdenum, fluoride, manganese, boron, nickel and cobalt. Algae typically offer 3 to 5 times more minerals per bite than terrestrial foods. In addition, algae produce dozens of therapeutic compounds such as omega-3 fatty acids that are not found in land plants or animals.

Mineral availability
Mineral availability from land plants, particularly legumes and grain, is often compromised by phytic acid, which binds the minerals rendering them unavailable for absorption into the blood stream. In one investigation, phytic acid was undetectable in four species of marine algae, and iron absorption was 3.5 fold greater for marine algae compared to rice. Algae iron is easily absorbed by the human body because its blue pigment, phycocyanin, forms soluble complexes with iron and other minerals during digestion making iron more bioavailable. Hence, unlike iron derived from land plants, the bioavailability of algae iron is comparable to that of heme iron in meats.

Algae are rich in iodine and selenium, critical trace elements that are highly variable in food supplies by geographic region. These minerals have caused serious endemic deficiency disorders throughout history. Algae concentrate these trace minerals and only small amounts of algae (1 tablespoon) provide sufficient levels of these nutrients when introduced into the diet. Some indigenous societies gain access to these minerals, vitamins and nutrients even from non-digestible algae and seaweed by chewing algae like chewing gum.

Algae’s rich set of nutrients, antioxidants, enzymes and extracts, boost the immune system and enhance the body’s ability to grow new blood cells. Algae are rich in phytonutrients and functional nutrients that activate digestive and immune systems. Algae compounds accelerate production of the humoral system (antibodies and cytokines), allowing it to better protect against invading germs. Algae components also activate the cellular immune system including T-cells, macrophages, B-cells and anti-cancer natural killer cells.

The World Health Organization, (WHO) cites malnutrition as the gravest single threat to the world’s public health. Malnutrition may occur from insufficient usable protein or deficiencies in specific essential nutrients. Algae can provide a reliable protein source with three times more protein per unit of weight than rice and twice the protein of meat. Unlike herbivore meat, algae offer all nine of the essential amino acids and nearly all the essential nutrients.

Humans have fought anemia from iron and B vitamin deficiencies for millennia because this blood disorder still plagues mankind today. Anemia is the most common blood problem and creates a decrease in the normal number of red blood cells or less than the normal quantity of hemoglobin in the blood. Iron and B vitamins are essential for strong red blood cells and a healthy immune system. Since human cells depend on oxygen for survival, varying degrees of anemia can have severe medical consequences. Anemia causes weakness, fatigue, general malaise and brain dysfunction. Anemic children have trouble concentrating and learning. Severe anemia can cause loss of breath and cardiac arrest.

Anemia typically occurs from insufficient dietary iron. The WHO reports that iron deficiency currently affects the health and vitality of 3.5 billion people around the world. Algae are a demonstrated source of bioavailable iron, and the introduction of algae into a low iron diet increases iron absorption 3-6 fold.

B vitamin deficiency (B9, also known as folic acid or B12) is the leading cause of macrocytic anemia worldwide. In addition to the symptoms noted above, macrocytic anemia impairs female reproductive function and embryo/fetal viability. Folic acid concentrations in algae are comparable to many common fruits and vegetables. Unlike terrestrial plants, algae hold a unique place in the plant world as an adequate and reliable source of B12. Algae or algae foods buffer against anemia and the devastating impact of this condition has on mental function, reproduction and physical vitality.

Vitamin A deficiency
Nearly half the children in the world today are vitamin A deficient, which causes blindness. The WHO estimates 13.8 million children to have some degree of visual loss related to vitamin A deficiency. Approximately 500,000 children in the developing world go blind each year from insufficient vitamin A and approximately half of those children die within a year of becoming blind.  Night blindness and color blindness are markers of vitamin A deficiency that also can lead to impaired immune function, cancer, birth defects and maternal mortality.

Vitamin A is needed by the eye’s retina in the form of a specific metabolite, the light-absorbing molecule rhodopsin. This molecule plays a critical role in both night vision and cornea health. Vitamin A also plays an important role in other human systems including gene transcription, cardiac function, bone metabolism, haematopoiesis, skin health and antioxidant activity. In pregnant women, vitamin A deficient may disrupt embryonic development. Due to its critical role in innate immunity, the body’s first line of defense against invading pathogens, vitamin A, the ‘anti-infective’ vitamin, reduced morbidity and mortality throughout human history.

Land plants and roots contain little pre-formed vitamin A and few people in developing countries can meet their nutritional requirement through the conversion of ingested beta-carotene to retinol. The bioconversion of beta-carotene to retinol is highly variable based on the plant’s food matrix. Foods with complex matrices (fruits and vegetables including spinach and carrots) have poor conversion rates (15:1 to 27:1) compared to foods with simple food matrices. Algae have possibly the highest conversion rates for all foods (4.5:1), presumably due to its simple cell structure.

A diet of land-based plants in developing countries can lead to widespread vitamin A deficiency, which is catastrophic for human development. Algae consumption provides immediate relief from vitamin A deficiency symptoms, including the reversal of blindness in some situations. The Kanenbu tribe in Chad avoids vitamin A deficiency using a strategy they have used for centuries by adding about 10 grams (one tablespoon) of locally harvested algae to their meals each day. Various algae varieties provide ten times the beta-carotene (a provitamin A carotenoid) per pound than modern carrots. Vitamin A deficiency is often accompanied by zinc deficiency, which amplifies the health impacts. The same algae supplement provides sufficient daily zinc for adults and children.

Iodine deficiency
Over 2 billion people have insufficient iodine intake, making iodine deficiency the single largest preventable cause of intellectual and learning disablities. Even moderate iodine deficiency, especially in pregnant women and infants, lowers intelligence by 10 to 15 I.Q. points. The most visible and severe effects include disabling goiters, cretinism and dwarfism. About 16% of the world’s people today have at least mild goiter, a swollen thyroid gland in the neck. The high iodine content in algae contributes to the low rates of goiter observed in countries where people frequently eat algae.

Immunity and wellness
Indigenous people rub algae or algae oil on their skin for sun protection, to add moisture and to speed recovery from wounds, burns and bruises. The high antioxidant activity of algae protects skin from inflammatory reactions. Other algae nutrients, vitamins and minerals enhanced physiological systems including the cardiovascular, respiratory and the nervous systems. Algae components also activate the cellular immune system including T-cells, macrophages, B-cells and anti-cancer natural killer cells. Algae polysaccharides inhibit replication of several enveloped viruses that could have been deadly for early humans including herpes simplex, influenza, measles, mumps, human cytomegalovirus and HIV-1.

Pacific Rim societies have been using algae for these and other natural remedies for centuries because they are effective. Organic chemists, medicinal chemists, biologists, and pharmacists are currently developing new anti-inflammatory medicines from algae.

Recent research suggests algae components offer therapeutic solutions to diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune diseases including arthritis as well as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. An algae protein has been shown to stop the spread of HIV /AIDS virus and another algae protein halts the SARS virus. Certain algae species release toxins as a defense mechanism. Researchers at Scripps Institute are growing algae and stimulating it to produce toxins which are then harvested. These toxins are going through suppression tests for over 30 forms of cancer.

Today, many firms are prospecting algae cultivation for the production of biofuels. However, biofuels represent a low value, commodity product. Soon, many algae firms will begin exploring the production of high value advanced compounds found in algae.

Algae Diabetes Solution

The Centers for Disease Control, (CDC) reported that one out of three American children born after the year 2000 will contract diabetes – predominantly due to a poor diet of nutrient-deficient calories. Over 40% of women are likely to contract diabetes. The plague of obesity and diabetes creates havoc on our educational system and creates immense drag on our health system.

The cost of diabetes in the U.S. approaches $200 billion annually. Neither the obesity nor the diabetes costs include the drag on education, social systems, businesses and the military. Our society will fail if we do not find solutions to obesity and diabetes quickly.

Childhood obesity causes diabetes when the body makes insufficient insulin or cannot use its own insulin effectively and sugars build up in the blood. Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in children and adolescents and rates are escalating dramatically.

Diabetes is a serious disease because it is associated with an increased risk of life threatening complications such as a heart attack, stroke, or kidney disease. Overall, the risk for death among people with diabetes for these catastrophic complications is about four times that of people without diabetes. In addition to an earlier death, diabetes carries with it significant risks for serious complications such as blindness, the need for dialysis and limb amputation.

Diabetes and algae
Diabetes mellitus occurs when blood sugar levels become elevated. Type 1 diabetes is associated with the destruction of the cells in the pancreas that manufacture insulin. Individuals with Type 1 diabetes require lifelong insulin for the control of blood sugar levels. In Type 2 diabetes insulin levels are typically elevated, indicating a loss of sensitivity to insulin by the cells of the body.

Research on humans and animals shows algae components offer significant utility in the prevention and control of diabetes. Aligned studies have demonstrated algae’s therapeutic value for the diseases common with diabetics; cholesterol management, blood pressure, heart disease and cancers. Algae can moderate chronic inflammation that often precedes and accompany degenerative diseases. Algae compounds provide therapeutic value for diabetes and fat metabolism.

For example, kelp are brown seaweeds that contain up to 13 times more calcium than milk and powerful antioxidants that are not found in land plants: fucoxanthin and fucoidan. Kelps are macroalgae rich in B vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin K1 with high mineral content in magnesium, potassium and iron. The plentiful soluble dietary fibers in algae help avoid obesity and diabetes. The total fiber content of several algae species, (~6 g/100g), is greater than that of fruits and vegetables promoted for their fiber content: prunes (2.4 g), cabbage (2.9 g), apples (2.0 g) and brown rice (3.8 g).

The many varieties of kelp grow in most the oceans of the world. Kelp and other sea vegetables have been eaten by societies that lived near oceans and estuaries for centuries. Sea vegetables are commonly available in health food and Asian stores as dried sheets or cut pieces. Sea vegetables are commonly used as a nutritionally rich additive to salads, soups, stews and casseroles to add color, taste and texture.

The research reviewed here focuses on red and brown macroalgae but many of the same or similar compounds are abundant in other algae species.

Appetite control
Algae compounds provide a wide array of medical benefits for children plagued with obesity and diabetes. Two unique strategies may be called fill-gut and gut-full signals.


Studies show that sodium alginate reduces plasma glucose and protects the antioxidant system in diabetics. Alginic acid and other compounds in sea vegetables exert a protective effect against diabetes. Alginic acid may improve the sensitivity of cells to the action of insulin, thereby improving glucose tolerance and normalizing blood sugar.

Sodium alginate induces significantly lower postprandial rises in blood glucose, serum insulin and plasma C-peptides. The addition of sodium alginate in the diet leads to a delayed gastric emptying rate induced by the fiber, which moderates glucose response.

Algae polyphenol extracts have anti-diabetic effects through the modulation of glucose-induced oxidative stress. These extracts slow starch-digestive enzymes such as alpha-amylase and alpha-glucosidase.

Visible impacts
A 2012 lab rat study graphically describes the impacts of diabetes and hypoglycemic effect. Healthy rats at the same age and body weight reacted nimbly had hair that was bright and smooth. Alloxan was injected and the animals showed typical signs of diabetes mellitus: clumsiness, slow actions, dull colored fur and marasmus. Average body weights reduced significantly.

After kelp powder forage was administered, the action and hair color of animals in kelp treated and DM-model groups recovered gradually, with body weight becoming significantly higher than before treatment. Diabetic animals treated with a placebo continued to display signs of diabetes and to lose weight.

Insulin resistance syndrome
The cluster of medical conditions that make up the insulin resistance syndrome or metabolic syndrome significantly increases the risk of developing type-2 diabetes and atherosclerosis. Over one-third of adult Americans have insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome. Numerous studies show that diets high in sugar or high glycemic foods that the body transforms to sugar, create unhealthy loads of blood sugar and contribute to obesity and diabetes. A small dose of soluble alginate-fiber significantly reduces postprandial glycemia and gastric emptying in humans with diabetes. Both effects reduce prediabetic and diabetic symptoms.

People who consume alginate fibers in drinks, bars or in other forms experience a sensation of satiety, so they eat less and lose more weight. Human trials have shown significantly more weight loss when the diet includes alginates compared with the placebo group.

Hypoglycemic effects
Several lines of research have investigated algae’s ability to moderate hypoglycemic effects through enhancement of glucose uptake in the liver and in soleus muscles. Improved insulin sensitivity after algae treatment could be also due to lower serum non-esterified fatty acid levels. Insulin sensitivity tends to blunt elevated non-esterified fatty acids in people with diabetes.

Several algae species such as Ulva, Ascophyllum, Alaria, and Palmaria are rich in phenolic compounds that are natural antioxidants and exhibit bioactive properties. A phenolic rich extracts from various algae species have been shown to inhibit digestive enzymes and achieve anti-diabetic effects.

Algae pharmaceuticals and medicines are currently in trial phases. These valuable algae therapeutics should move through medical approval relatively quickly since they are natural products and to date, have shown no allergic reactions.

Algae Therapeutic Solutions – Alginic Acid and Phlorotannis

Algae have many compounds that are already used widely in the human and animal food supply as well as medicines. Alginic acid, omega-e fatty acids and phlorotannins will be examined here.

Alginic acid
Alginic acid or alginates are naturally occurring hydrophilic colloidal polysaccharide, (carbohydrate) extracted from the cell wall of red and brown seaweed such as kelp. Alginic acid forms viscous fluids by absorbing 300 times its own weight in water. Many processed foods use alginic acid as a thickening agent. Food processors also use alginic acid as an emulsifier or bulking, foaming, gelling or glazing agent. The compound also provides value as a humectant, (moisturizer) and stabilizer. Alginates are commonly added to drinks, ice cream, jellies and cosmetics for thickening, smoothing and maintaining moisture.

Alginates inhibit the formation of ice crystals, which keep ice cream creamy and insure toothpaste and lipstick does not dry out before use. Alginate absorbs water quickly, which makes it useful as an additive in dehydrated foods and diet products such as slimming aids. Alginate is used in many pharmaceutical products such as anti-acids. The combination of the alginic acid and bicarbonate creates a barrier, which prevents stomach acid from refluxing back up into the esophagus. Calcium alginate is used in many types of medical products, including burn dressings that promote healing. The alginate sustains moisture so the dressing can be removed with less pain than conventional dressings.

Lipid reduction
Several lines of research have shown algae’s ability to decrease lipids and lower blood sugar, which improve diabetic symptoms. Algae polysaccharides such as carrageenan are excellent sources of dietary fiber that moderate hypoglycemic events and lower cholesterol and lipids. Algae carrageenan reduces triglycerides and low-density proteins in blood cholesterol, which helps regulate lipids.

Most algae contain low-fat proteins that often have nutrient profiles superior to land-based vegetables and grains as well as dairy or meat. The next generation of food processing will incorporate the low fat, nutrient rich algae components throughout the food system to improve health and reduce obesity and diabetes.

Sodium alginate has been used in culinary physics or molecular gastronomy at some of the best restaurants in the world. Molecular gastronomy investigates the physical and chemical ingredient transformations that occur while cooking. The study includes the social, artistic and technical components of culinary and gastronomic phenomena such as spherification of juices and other liquids. Sodium alginate is combined with calcium lactate to create spheres of liquid surrounded by a thin jelly membrane. High-end restaurants present these spheres with different internal liquids for cocktails, appetizers, side dishes and desserts.

Medical applications
Alginic acids are made up of hydrophilic colloidal polysaccharides that deliver complex molecules such as peptides, proteins, nucleic acids, oligonucleotides, and plasmids across biological surfaces. The delivery capability makes alginic acids ideal carriers for obesity, diabetic and related medicines. Alginate is used in the weight loss industry as an appetite suppressant. The mechanism includes the absorption of water to create the feeling of satiety or fullness. Researchers at Newcastle University found that dietary alginates can reduce human fat uptake by more than 75%.

Sodium alginate acts as a natural chelator for metals and is sold in the nutraceutical industry as a detoxifier for removing heavy metals from the body. Research has shown that sodium alginate pulls heavy medals including radioactive toxins from the body, such as iodine-131 and strontium-90.

The effect of soluble fiber on the blood glucose response seems related to its ability to increase the viscosity of a meal. Viscous fibers slow the gastric emptying rate of a meal in subjects with and without diabetes. Alginate fibers offer a source of viscous dietary fiber in algae-based foods. The main constituents of alginates are uronic acids (mannuronic and guluronic acids), which give the alginate characteristics similar to pectin (galacturonic acid).

Alginic acid has been shown to exhibit antioxidant and angiotensin-converting enzyme, (ACE) inhibitory activities. Alginic acid reduces tension on blood vessels, lowers blood flow and causes dilation of blood vessels, which results in lower blood pressure. ACE inhibitors are used to treat hypertension, cardiac failure, diabetic nephropathy and renal failure. These soluble polysaccharides act as prebiotics, stimulating growth of beneficial bacteria in the colon.

Some algae such as the blue-green spirulina have no cell walls, which aid digestion and nutrient absorption.  Studies have demonstrated digestion rates of 95% for essential amino acids. Algae provide higher quality protein than red meat. Unlike meat, algae contain all eight essential amino acids required for human body. Algae also pack a variety of essential vitamins including A, C, D, E, and b-carotene, biotin, folic acid, pantothenic acid and creatine. Vitamin E and B-carotene content is the best antioxidant and helps the body stave off free radical damage. Algae also deliver the powerful antioxidant astaxanthin, which scavenges free radicals and protects the body against oxidative damage.  Astaxanthin moderates the lipids that raise LDL-cholesterol; strengthens and maintains cells and their membranes and tissues.

Phlorotannins are a type of tannins found in red, brown algae and other algae. Tannin molecules bind to and precipitate proteins and various other organic compounds including amino acids and alkaloids. Some phlorotannins have the ability to oxidize and form covalent bonds with proteins. These natural organic compounds provide integral structural components of cell walls in algae. They serve several other functions including protection from UV radiation.

Several lines of medical research indicate algae phlorotannins offer a rich source of natural health-promoting components including anti-diabetic and anti-cancer compounds. The chelating properties of phlorotannins have been demonstrated assist with metal sequestration. A team led by Graciliana Lopes tested ten different seaweeds from the coast of Portugal and found anti-oxidation, antibacterial, radioprotective and anti-HIV properties. The team noted that phlorotannins offer a novel and potent pharmacological alternative for the treatment of a wide range of microbial infections, especially inflammatory problems. Phlorotannins extracts may be preferred in order to avoid side effects and allergic reactions commonly associated with synthetic drugs.

The accumulation of advanced glycation end products is associated with diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, renal failure and other maladies. Phlorotannins from brown algae inhibit the formation of advanced glycation end products by scavenging reactive carbonyls. Phlorotannins also offer therapeutic agents for diabetic complications by providing mechanisms for oxidative stress-mediated pathways.

Algae Therapeutic Solutions – Omega 3 and 6

A healthy diet includes a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, while some omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation. These polyunsaturated fatty acids, (PUFAs), promote brain and eye development and health, help stimulate skin and hair growth, maintain bone health, regulate metabolism, and maintain the reproductive system. Omega-3 in fish is high in protein, vitamins, and minerals and low in saturated fat.

Omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be critical for brain and behavioral function. Infants who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are at risk for developing brain, vision, respiratory and nerve problems. Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings or depression and poor circulation. Researchers have found that cultures that eat foods with high levels of omega-3s have lower levels of depression. Fish oil also seems to boost the effects of antidepressants. Fish oil may help reduce the depressive symptoms of bipolar disorder.


Hundreds of studies suggest that omega-3s may provide benefits to a wide range of diseases, including diabetes, cancer, depression, cardiovascular disease, ADHD, and autoimmune diseases, such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. The FDA has approved a qualified health claim for both foods and dietary supplements that contain DHA and EPA, stating that “Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids because they are necessary for human health. PUFAs must be obtained through food. Omega-3s are often obtained in the human diet by eating cold water or oily fish or fish oil— e.g., cod liver, herring, mackerel, salmon, menhaden and sardine. Fish, like other animals, cannot not synthesize omega-3 but get it from their diet of algae or small fish that are algae feeders.

Omega-6 inflammation

Unlike omega-3, excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation, a precursor to a wide array of chronic diseases. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in fish, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, garlic, as well as moderate wine consumption. Before industrialized food, people ate about 2:1 omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Today, the typical American diet tends to contain 20 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids in the diet come from vegetable oils such as corn, palm, soybean, rapeseed and sunflower. Foods high in omega-6 include as crackers, chips, cookies and corn-fed beef.

Elevated intakes of omega-6 fatty acids may play a role in Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. Excess omega-6 fats interfere with the health benefits of omega−3 fats because they compete for the same rate-limiting enzymes. A high proportion of omega-6 to omega-3 fat in the diet shifts the physiological state in the tissues toward the chronic inflammatory diseases such as cardiovascular, arthritis and cancer.

Not all omega-6 fatty acids behave the same. Linoleic acid and arachidonic acid tend to be unhealthy because they promote inflammation. Medications used to treat and manage these conditions work by blocking the effects of the potent omega-6 fat, arachidonic acid. GLA another omerga-6 may reduce inflammation. GLA taken as a supplement is converted to a substance called DGLA that fights inflammation. Having enough of certain nutrients in the body (including magnesium, zinc, and vitamins C, B3, and B6) helps promote the conversion of GLA to DGLA. Medical research considers the use of omega-3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation and prevent diseases to be much stronger than that supporting GLA.

Diabetic neuropathy
Some studies show that taking gamma linolenic acid (GLA) for 6 months or more may reduce symptoms of nerve pain in people with diabetic neuropathy. People who have good blood sugar control may find GLA more effective than those with poor blood sugar control.

The body uses cholesterol as the starting point to make estrogen, testosterone, vitamin D, and other vital compounds. Fats also serve as biologically active molecules that influence how muscles respond to insulin. Various forms of fats, especially Omega-3s, can accelerate or cool down inflammation.

The omega-e fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid, EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid, DHA, affect inflammation and many other cellular functions. These fats influence signaling in cells and the brain and therefore affect mood and behavior. The National Institute of Health’s MedlinePlus lists over 100 medical conditions for which EPA alone, or in concert with other omega-3 sources, is known or thought to be an effective treatment. Most medical interventions derive from omega-3 oils’ ability to lower inflammation or enhance cell signaling. The beneficial effects of EPA and DHA in insulin resistance include their ability to increase secretion of adiponectin, an anti-inflammatory adipokine.

Omega-3s mediate inflammatory effects by antagonizing omga-6, arachidonic acid-induced proinflammatory prostaglandin E₂ formation. Another mechanism occurs when omega-3s impart their anti-inflammatory effects via reduction of nuclear factor-kappaB activation. Nuclear factor-kappaB transcription factor induces of proinflammatory cytokine production, including interleukin 6 and tumor necrosis factor-α. EPA decreases both affects. Omerga-3s repress lipogenesis and increase protectin generation, which leads to reduced inflammation.

DHA comprises 40% of the polyunsaturated fatty acids in the brain and 60% of the PUFAs in the retina. Fifty percent of the weight of a neuron’s plasma membrane is composed of DHA. DHA is selectively incorporated into retinal cell membranes and postsynaptic neuronal cell membranes, where it plays important roles in vision and nervous system function. DHA is richly supplied during breastfeeding, and DHA levels are high in breast milk. In humans, DHA is either obtained from the diet or synthesized from eicosapentaenoic acid, (EPA).

Another type of omega-3 fatty acid, ALA (from flaxseed or genetically modified soy) appears not to have the same benefit as fish oil. Many people with diabetes cannot efficiently convert ANA to a form of omega-3 fatty acids that the body can use.

People with diabetes often have high triglyceride and low HDL levels. Omega-3 fatty acids help lower triglycerides and apoproteins (diabetes markers), and raise HDL.

Omega-3 fatty acids decrease the risk for development of β-cell autoimmunity and clinical type-1 diabetes. Type-1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the beta cells in the pancreatic islets are destroyed and both genetics and diet act together. A study in Norway found that children with diabetes were less likely to have been given fish oil in infancy than children without diabetes. A follow-up study found that dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids is associated with a reduced risk of Type 1 diabetes in children with increased genetic risk.


A recent Type-2 diabetes review article revealed that several types of fat in the blood are reduced through omega-3 supplementation. Clinical trials of sufficient duration will be required to establish conclusively the role of omega-3 in Type-2 diabetes. Current research has found no harmful PUFA effects on the balance of blood fats and confirm that it has no adverse effect on blood sugar control.

Omega-3 fatty acids have neurotrophic and neuroprotective properties and have been found to be effective, safe, and well tolerated in the treatment for a broad set of mental symptoms in children and adolescents. Evidence endorses a clinical staging model in which subjects at elevated risk for developing mental disorders are treated with safer interventions (i.e. omega-3 fatty acids or family-focused therapy) in the prodromal phase. If these natural processes do not achieve the desired outcomes, pharmacological agents may be employed, in spite of their potential adverse side effects.

Cardiovascular diseases are the leading causes of death in individuals with diabetes. Hypertriglyceridemia (serum triglycerides > 200 mg/dl) is a common lipid abnormality in individuals with type-2 diabetes. Several randomized controlled trials have found that omega-3 oil supplementation significantly lowers serum triglyceride levels in diabetics.

An interesting line of research has investigated algae’s ability to moderate hypoglycemic effects through enhancement of glucose uptake in the liver and in soleus muscles. Improved insulin sensitivity after algae treatment may be due to lower serum non-esterified fatty acid levels. Insulin sensitivity tends to blunt elevated non-esterified fatty acids in diabetes. Phenolic-rich extracts from edible marine macroalgae – Ulva, Ascophyllum, Alaria, and Palmaria – were found to offer biological components that inhibit replication of cultured colon cancer cells. These studies confirmed that phenolic extracts inhibit digestive enzymes and achieve anti-diabetic effects.

Algae Therapeutic Solutions – Carotenoids and Fucoidan

Algae have served as food for plants and animals for over 2 billion years. The cellular metabolism of plants and animals evolved to take advantage of the many compounds algae provided. Today, wild stands of algae, largely seaweeds, are harvested in oceans and estuaries. The active compounds are extracted for use in food, feed, fertilizer, advanced compounds, pharmaceuticals and medicines. Tomorrow, algapreneurs will cultivate both macro and micro algae in order to produce large quantities of high-quality compounds.

Seaweeds grow naturally in the ocean but farming can increase productivity by a factor of 10 or higher. Farmers can optimize at the critical factors for growth, including photons, nutrients, temperature, pH and mixing. Algae cultivation systems, microfarms, can be designed to maximize the efficiencies of biomass harvest and compound extraction.

                                                                                                                     Algae-based Medical Compounds


Carotenoids are organic pigments found in the chloroplasts and chromoplasts of photosynthetic organisms such as land plants and algae. Chromoplasts are the organelle responsible for a plant’s distinctive color, which comes from the accumulation of carotenoid pigments. Carotenoids cannot be synthesized by animals but are essential as they serve as building blocks for cellular metabolism. Animals obtain carotenoids from their diets.

Over 600 carotenoids are found in nature, but only six are present in the human bloodstream and only three-lutein, zeaxanthin and meson-zeaxanthin, are found in the human eye’s macula.  These three carotenoids accumulate in the macula at a concentration 10,000 times that found in the blood stream.  The biochemical characteristics of lutein provide important structural components in cell membranes and act as a short-wave-length filter.

Carotenoids are divided into two classes, xanthophylls that contain oxygen, and carotenes that do not contain oxygen, and are purely hydrocarbons. Carotenoids serve two key roles in plants and algae: they absorb light energy for use in photosynthesis, and they protect chlorophyll from photo damage. Algae use carotenoids to make retinal, (provitamin A) which allows the plant to convert light into metabolic energy.

In humans, carotenoids deposit in the macula and are vital in protecting the retina photoreceptors and retina pigment epithelium from harmful damage by ultra-violet and blue wavelength light sources. Carotenoids also enhance vision by decreasing chromatic aberration and photosensitivity. These compounds improve glare recovery time and contrast sensitivity in vision acuity through a reduction in blue-light scatter.

Antioxidants protect human health with compounds that inhibit the oxidation of other molecules. They act as a modulator of redox, (reduction-oxidation) and a modulator in signal transduction pathways. Oxidation transfers electrons or hydrogen from a substance to an oxidizing agent, which often produces free radicals. Free radicals can start chain reactions that damage or kill cells. Antioxidants terminate these chain reactions by removing free radical intermediates, and prevent other oxidation reactions. Carotenoids enhance the immune system because they are efficient free-radical scavengers.

Four carotenoids act as antioxidants in humans, beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, gamma-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin. They operate singularly or in concert to synthesize retinal, which is critical for eyesight. Other carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin also help eyesight by absorbing damaging blue and near-ultraviolet light. Light absorbtion protects the macula of the retina, which is critical for sharp vision. Diabetics often have vision problems that may be related to their inability to produce sufficient retinal. People consuming diets rich in carotenoids are healthier and have lower mortality from a broad array of chronic illnesses, including diabetes.

Antioxidants such as beta-carotene can moderate blood sugar levels in pre-diabetics and diabetics. Antioxidants may help return blood sugar levels to their normal range in diabetes patients. Evidence suggests that the antioxidants selenium, zinc, vitamin E, vitamin B-6 and biotin help control blood sugar.

The best-known carotenoid, carotene, give carrots their bright orange color. The pink color of flamingos and salmon, and the red coloring of cooked shrimp and lobsters come from carotenoids. Flamingos, salmon, shrimp and lobsters get their pigments from algae or algae eaters. Each ounce of algae contains eight times the carotene provided by an ounce of carrots.

Epidemiologic evidence suggests that carotenoids are potent antioxidants and play a protective role in the development of chronic diseases including cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other inflammatory diseases. The role of antioxidants in the pathogenesis of diabetes mellitus may be related to the anti-inflammatory effects and the ability to reduce oxidative stress. Randomized human trials in a series of studies showed that serum carotenoids are inversely associated with type-2 diabetes and impaired glucose metabolism. Currently, it is unclear whether the biological effects of carotenoids in humans are a result of their antioxidant activity or other non-antioxidant mechanisms.

The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, (1988–1994), examined 8,808 U.S. adults aged over 20 years with and without the metabolic syndrome. People with the metabolic syndrome had lower carotenoid levels, which was probably due to their lower consumption of fruits and vegetables. Adults with the metabolic syndrome had suboptimal concentrations of several antioxidants, which partially explain their increased risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The carotenoid lycopene acts as both an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. It has been found to be effective in the inhibition of angiotensin-converting enzyme, ACE activity, an important indicator of diabetes-related complications.

Brown seaweed such as kelp contain fucoidan and fucoxanthin. Fucoxanthin and fucoidan act together to help the macroalgae transform sunlight into energy. Fucoidan is complex carbohydrate called a sulfated polysaccharide. Like alginates, focoidans offer remarkable effects in moisturizing. The compound lowers blood fat, which offers therapeutic treatments for obesity and diabetes. Fucoidan fractions significantly reduced blood glucose levels in diabetic mice.

The nutritional value of fucoidan stems largely from its native environment – the sea. Fucoidan is rich in calcium, iodine, zinc, iron, selenium and vitamin A. These nutrients are essential for proper functioning of the immune, circulatory and neurologic systems. Research shows fucoidans possess anti-cancer and anti-clotting effects. It relieves joint pain and provides support for the liver, cardiac function and digestion. Fucoidan enhances skin moisture and pliability, helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels and enhances cellular protection and regeneration. The mechanism seems to be that fucoidan facilitates improved cell signaling.


Fucoidan offers a therapeutic aid to control or reduce obesity due to bioactive compounds that are similar to dietary phytochemicals. Fucoidan exerts anti-obesity effects through the inhibition of inflammatory-related cytokines, (signaling molecules). Fucoidan also reduces the accumulation of lipids and reactive oxygen species production in adipocytes, the specialized cells that store fat.

Focoidans are used to treat nephrotic syndrome and nephritis that occur commonly in diabetics. Nephrotic syndrome is a group of symptoms associated with kidney disorders that pass too much protein in the urine, which causes low blood protein levels, high cholesterol, high triglyceride and swelling. Fucoidans improve kidney function and moderate symptoms in diabetics.

Fucoidans are used as anticoagulants, antivirals and in anti-tumor therapies. Fucoidans has been shown to resist HIV virus. These bioactive compounds have potent anti-HIV-1 activity both against WT and drug-resistant HIV-1 strains. The therapeutic mechanism seems to be that the fucoidans effectively block early events of viral replication.

Diabetics often find their kidneys do not function properly because they do not filter waste effectively. Leaky kidneys cause creatinine to accumulate in the blood. Fucoidans offer a treatment for nephrotic syndrome and early, medium or chronic renal failure with non-toxic side effects. The natural compounds improve renal function and lowering serum creatinine.

Growing algae to harvest carotenoids and fucoidan present an excellent business model for algae producers. Carotenoids and fucoidan are most likely to be coproducts for algae businesses growing algae for food, feed, nutraceuticals or other applications.