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AMALIA Highlighted in PARLIEMENT magazine

Turning ocean’s threats into opportunities

The increasing appearance of alien seaweeds has been causing paramount economic and ecological problems. These threats can, however, be seen as unexploited opportunities taking into account their raw industrial uses and the presence of compounds with great potential for food, feed, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. While generating value and contributing for the economy, the extraction of these algae from the ocean may be included in effective and sustainable management practices, contributing to the marine ecosystem equilibrium or even site restoration.

The Iberian Northwest coast is also a region under the threat of invasive seaweeds, and despite having a vast diversity of seaweeds, these are clearly unexplored facing the global economical revenue they may present. EU Regulation 1143/2014 addresses the invasive alien species problem in a comprehensive manner, protecting native biodiversity and ecosystem services, and minimizing and mitigating human health or economic impacts that these organisms may represent, foreseeing three types of interventions: prevention, early detection and rapid eradication, and management - the same that AMALIA cares to address.

The AMALIA - Algae-to-MArket Lab IdeAs project, co-funded by the European Union under the Blue Labs mechanism and lead by the Polytechnic of Leiria in Portugal, counts on the participation of higher education institutions, research units, companies and local development associations, and aims to value algae from the northwest of the Iberian peninsula and create innovative food products, feeds with the potential to stimulate the immune system of fish and shrimp, extracts for cosmetics and new drugs for the pharmaceutical industry.

While the overall aim is blue sky and long-term result wise (mostly when considering pharma), by adding-value to these marine resources, we can create smart shortcuts to generate new “short-developing time products” driven by a blue biotech refinery approach. AMALIA will produce food, feed and cosmetics ready to go to the market in a line with the consortium approach “From the Sea to Society”, and the EU’s initiative and Atlantic Action Plan to achieve the goals of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive Blue Growth.

Knowing that marine molecules with high biotechnological potential may only have relevance when sustainable industrial scale production is assured, marine invaders may provide enough low value biomass, while its extraction may be faced as a contingency plan for its eradication.

Additionally, to monitor these seaweeds, advanced engineering and imaging solutions are being integrated into an underwater system providing real-time information on the appearance of algae - enabling algae collection by the industry before they impose major damage in the marine environment. This upgradable and adaptable system will also allow for a myriad of other underwater uses.

This multidisciplinary approach with industrial, R&D and community partners with a strong link to graduate and undergraduate students in a research-based learning ecosystem, will enable the development of sensors and their integration into an early-warning tool for invasive species detection and ocean management, while enhancing the use of these resources for new added value products and solutions, contributing to alien marine species irradiation while enforcing EU’s blue growth strategy.