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Our species

Ulva and PorphyraWe focus on two seaweed species that grow naturally on the Swedish west coast, the green alga Ulva lactuca and the red alga Porphyra umbilicalis. Both species have properties that are of interest for future applications. Also, their reproductive traits will enable efficient cultivation and breeding.

Both Ulva lactuca and Porphyra umbilicalis are promising sources for food ingredients. They are rich in proteins, vitamins (in particular A, B, C, E), trace minerals (e.g. iron and iodine) and dietary fibers. Furthermore, their lipids have a high content of essential fatty acids – up to 10 and 35 percent for Ulva and Porhyra respectively. They also contain antioxidative and pigmented molecules, e.g. polyphenols and phycobilins which can be used in e.g. food additives.

Natural iduronic acid
Among the interesting molecules these species produce are sulphated polysaccharides. Ulvan, for example, produced by Ulva lactuca. Ulvan consists partly of iduronic acid, which can be used as a precursor for the synthesis of fine chemicals such as aroma compounds and heparin analogues. Ulva lactuca could thus provide a natural source for the production of this acid, replacing a complicated and expensive chemical synthesis.

Bioplastics and gels
Also Porphyra umbilicalis contain macromolecular components of interest. For example, polymeric substances such as pectic carbohydrates, cellulose and carrageenan. They can be used to develop new functional materials, e.g. thermoplastics and gels. Thus, biomaterials derived from seaweed biomass could offer a renewable alternative to fossil-based conventional polymers.

Selective breeding
In natural populations of seaweed, both quality and quantity of characteristics will vary. To maximize the output of interesting compounds and other wanted traits, we will start a breeding program. Seaweed breeding has been conducted in Southeast Asia for a few commercial species, but it is still a largely undeveloped area.

Short life cycles 
Ulva lactuca
and Porphyra umbilicalis have several advantages from a breeding perspective. Both species lifecycles can be completed in the laboratory within 2-8 months, which will enable selection of wanted traits within a five-year project. Another advantage is that selection can be performed on the gametophytic, haploid, phase. This is very efficient and can speed up the breeding, since recessive mutations are directly exposed to selection in haploids. In the sporophytic, diploid phase, the phenotypic effect of mutations can be masked through dominant alleles.

Induced zoospore release
Ulva lactuca is tank-cultivated commercially in South Africa, Japan and other Southeast Asian countries. Zoospore release from the asexual sporophyte can easily be induced under laboratory conditions. Preliminary studies on seeding Ulva-spores on nets for out-planting into the field have been conducted with promising results.

Possibilities for net seeding
Porphyra umbilicalis 
is the most economically valuable cultured macroalga in the world. Culturing Porhyra is more complex than Ulva, and based on the complete lifecycle with two stages. However, recent studies show that Porphyra in the Northern Atlantic sometimes regenerate the macroscopic blade (to be harvested) directly through asexual reproduction. This implies that seeding nets with asexual spores could be a future possibility for this species too.

Page Manager: Susanne Liljenström|Last update: 9/23/2016
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