Microalgae pipeline

Microalgae pipeline

Discovery and exploitation of natural compounds beneficial for human health and wellness


Unicellular marine algae are an extremely diverse group of organisms containing species already well studied, in addition to species for which little is known. They have evolved unique strategies to adapt to different environmental conditions and this translates into a great richness in potentially novel and unexplored metabolites.

The purpose of EMBRIC’s microalgae pipeline is to exploit this richness, by allowing the identification of microalgal compounds with a potential application in the pharmaceutical, cosmetic or nutraceutical industry.




Cultivation and culture collection

Several laboratories with longstanding experience in the cultivation of marine microalgae offer the possibility of growing and collecting large volumes of material for exploitation. The laboratories that provide algal strains are distributed in several sites in Europe and have extensive expertise and knowledge of the selected species and their environmental origins. This guarantees access to broad variety of algae, from polar species to warm-temperate species, with different sizes, life strategies and growth properties. In many cases, the pre-existing knowledge of the species biology will facilitate the choice of the growth conditions to use to improve the production of promising compounds.

Tools for the production of mutant algal strains are also available.

Access Providers available for this pipeline element:


Chemical extraction

For the identification and characterization of compounds, algal samples are subjected to chemical extraction using different solvents and extraction techniques. Extracts that are considered promising on the basis of the metabolomics profiling and/or the bioassays results (see below) can be further fractionated with the aim to obtain pure compounds.

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To investigate the metabolic content of the selected strains, microalgal extracts will be analyzed using a non-targeted metabolomics approach via ultra-high performance liquid chromatography – tandem mass spectrometry (UPLC/MS/MS). An automated extraction of features will be performed using XCMS. The most abundant features, or specific features of interest will be identified on the basis of their sum formula, their UV spectrum and their MS/MS data using reference databases.

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Anti-proliferative assays are available to screen extracts and compounds. These assays are based on the assessment of cell viability using a range of different cell lines, mostly human cancer cell lines. Reduced proliferation in these assays is considered an indication of the presence of a possible anti-cancerogenic compound, increased proliferation is considered an indication of the presence of anti-oxidant compounds.

It is also possible to test extracts and compounds in anti-bacterial assays against the so-called ESKAPE pathogen panel. Assays will be performed using OD as a readout under automated, highly standardized conditions in 384 well plates. For larger sample numbers, single concentration assays will be performed first, followed by dose-response determinations in the second stage.

Access Providers available for this pipeline element:


EMBRIC expertise

• Expertise in microalgal cultivation, access to microalgal strains

• Expertise in analytical chemistry

• Broad range of bio-assays

• Expertise in genetic engineering in microalgae

• Knowledge of microalgal physiology and life cycles

• Sexual reproduction in selected species

• Cutting-edge technologies for genetic manipulation


Contact person for questions and inquiries

Mariella Ferrante
Integrative Marine Ecology
Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn (SZN)
Tel:        +39 (0)81 5833268
Email:   mariella.ferrante@szn.it


Relevant publications

Depke, T., Franke, R., Brönstrup, M., 2017. Clustering of MS2 spectra using unsupervised methods to aid the identification of secondary metabolites from Pseudomonas aeruginosa. J. Chromatogr. B. doi:10.1016/j.jchromb.2017.06.002


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