Pierre Jouannais and Massimo Pizzol
Environmental Science & Technology, first published: 13 October 2022

Due to their biodiversity, microalgae represent a promising source of high-value compounds that bioprospecting is aiming to reveal. Performing an ex-ante Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to anticipate and potentially minimize the environmental burden associated with the European production of a bioprospected microalgal compound is subject to substantial and multi-factorial uncertainty as the compound remains undiscovered. Given that any microalgal strain could potentially host the compound of interest, the ex-ante LCA should consider this bioprospecting uncertainty together with the uncertainty on the technology and the production mix. Using a parameterized cultivation simulation and consequential LCA model and an extensive stochastic pseudo Monte Carlo approach, we define and propagate techno-operational, bioprospecting, and production mix uncertainties for a microalgal compound being currently bioprospected in Europe. We perform global sensitivity analysis using different sampling strategies to identify the main contributors to the total output variance. Overall, the uncertainty propagation allowed us to define and analyze the probabilistic scope for the potential environmental impacts in the emerging production of high-value microalgal compounds in Europe based on current knowledge. These findings can support policy-making as well as actors in the microalgal sector toward technological paths with lower environmental impact.

Microalgae are one of the most dominant forms of life on earth that is tightly associated with a distinct and specialized microbiota. We have previously shown that the microbiota of Scenedesmus quadricauda harbors less than 10 distinct microbial species. Here, we provide evidence that dominant species are affiliated with the genera of Variovorax, Porphyrobacter, and Dyadobacter. Experimental and transcriptome-based evidence implies that within this multispecies interaction, Dyadobacter is a key to alga growth and fitness and is highly adapted to live in the phycosphere. While presumably under light conditions the alga provides the energy source to the bacteria, Dyadobacter produces and releases mainly a large variety of polysaccharides modifying enzymes. This is coherent with high-level expression of the T9SS in alga cocultures. The transcriptome data further imply that quorum-quenching proteins (QQ) and biosynthesis of vitamins B1, B2, B5, B6, and B9 are expressed by Dyadobacter at high levels in comparison to Variovorax and Porphyrobacter. Notably, Dyadobacter produces a significant number of leucine-rich repeat (LRR) proteins and enzymes involved in bacterial reactive oxygen species (ROS) tolerance. Complementary to this, Variovorax expresses the genes of the biosynthesis of vitamins B2, B5, B6, B7, B9, and B12, and Porphyrobacter is specialized in the production of vitamins B2 and B6. Thus, the shared currency between partners are vitamins, microalgae growth-promoting substances, and dissolved carbon. This work significantly enlarges our knowledge on alga-bacteria interaction and demonstrates physiological investigations of microalgae and associated bacteria, using microscopy observations, photosynthetic activity measurements, and flow cytometry.

Pierre Jouannais, Stefan Hindersin, Sarah Löhn, Massimo Pizzol
Environmental Science & Technology, first published: 28 June 2022

Microalgae are currently being investigated for their promising metabolites but assessing the environmental impact of producing these compounds remains a challenge. Microalgae cultivation performance results from the complex interaction of biological, technological, geographical, and physical factors, which bioengineers try to optimize during the upscaling process. The path from the discovery of a microalgal compound to its industrial production is therefore highly uncertain. Nonetheless, it is key to anticipate the potential environmental impacts associated with the future production of a microalgal target compound. This is achieved in this study by developing an ex-ante, parameterized, and consequential LCA model that performs dynamic simulations of microalgae cultivation. The model is applied to calculate the environmental impacts of 9000 stochastically generated combinations of photobioreactor geometries and operational setups. The demonstration of the model is done for a fictive microalgal strain, parameterized to resemble Chlorella vulgaris, and a fictive target compound assumed to be a carbohydrate. The simulations are performed in Aalborg, Denmark, and Granada, Spain to appreciate geographical variability, which highly affects the requirements for thermoregulation. Open-source documentation allows full reproducibility and further use of the model for the ex-ante assessment of microalgal products.

Microalgae comprise a phylogenetically very diverse group of photosynthetic unicellular pro- and eukaryotic organisms growing in marine and other aquatic environments. While they are well explored for the generation of biofuels, their potential as a source of antimicrobial and prebiotic substances have recently received increasing interest. Within this framework, microalgae may offer solutions to the societal challenge we face, concerning the lack of antibiotics treating the growing level of antimicrobial resistant bacteria and fungi in clinical settings. While the vast majority of microalgae and their associated microbiota remain unstudied, they may be a fascinating and rewarding source for novel and more sustainable antimicrobials and alternative molecules and compounds. In this review, we present an overview of the current knowledge on health benefits of microalgae and their associated microbiota. Finally, we describe remaining issues and limitation, and suggest several promising research potentials that should be given attention.

Hamburg University of Technology
Institute of Environmental Technology and Energy Economics
Blohmstrasse 15
D-21079 Hamburg


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