Microphytes or microalgae are microscopic algae, typically found in freshwater and marine systems. They are unicellular species which exist individually, or in chains or groups. Depending on the species, their sizes can range from a few micrometers (µm) to a few hundreds of micrometers. Unlike higher plants, microalgae do not have roots, stems and leaves. Microalgae, capable of performing photosynthesis, are important for life on earth; they produce approximately half of the atmospheric oxygen and use simultaneously the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide to grow photoautotrophically.
The biodiversity of microalgae is enormous and they represent an almost untapped resource. It has been estimated that about 200,000-800,000 species exist of which about 50,000 species are described. Over 15,000 novel compounds originating from algal biomass have been chemically determined (Cardozo et al. 2007). Most of these microalgae species produce unique products like carotenoids, antioxidants, fatty acids, enzymes, polymers, peptides, toxins and sterols.
Characteristics and uses
The chemical composition of microalgae is not an intrinsic constant factor but varies over a wide range, both depending on species and on cultivation conditions. It is possible to accumulate the desired products in microalgae to a large extent by changing environmental factors . like temperature, illumination, pH, CO2 supply, salt and nutrients. Microalgae such as microphytes constitute the basic foodstuff for numerous aquaculture species, especially filtering bivalves.
They provide them with vitamins and polyunsaturated fatty acids, necessary for the growth of the bivalves which are unable to synthesize it themselves.
In addition, because the cells grow in aqueous suspension, they have more efficient access to water, CO2, and other nutrients.
While fish oil has become famous for its omega-3 fatty acid content, fish don't actually produce omega-3s, instead accumulating their omega-3 reserves by consuming microalgae. These omega-3 fatty acids can be obtained in the human diet directly from the microalgae that produce them.
Spirulina is a microphyte that has become popular as a health supplement.
A range of microalgae species are produced in hatcheries and are used in a variety of ways for commercial purposes. Studies have estimated main factors in the success of a microalgae hatchery system as the dimensions of the container/bioreactor where microalgae is cultured, exposure to light/irradiation and concentration of cells within the reactor.
- Thurman, H. V. (1997). Introductory Oceanography. New Jersey, USA: Prentice Hall College. ISBN 0-13-262072-3.
- Starckx, Senne (31 October 2012) A place in the sun - Algae is the crop of the future, according to researchers in Geel Flanders Today, Retrieved 8 December 2012
- "growing algae". WUR. Retrieved 2009-05-19.
- "ENERGY FROM ALGAE (includes scientific names)". ifremer. Archived from the original on 2006-11-28. Retrieved 2006-09-13.
- M. Tredici & R. Materassi (1992). "From open ponds to vertical alveolar panels: the Italian experience in the development of reactors for the mass cultivation of phototrophic microorganisms". Journal of Applied Phycology 4 (3): 221–231. doi:10.1007/BF02161208.
- NOAA, DMS and Climate
- Microalgae concentrates
- Microalgae research
- "From Micro-Algae to Blue Oil", ParisTech Review, Dec. 2011