Expansion Doubles Resource for Seaweed Research


Scientists and companies around the world now have access to more than 1,200 new strains of seaweeds through Bigelow Laboratory’s National Center for Marine Algae and Microbiota. The addition more than doubles the kelp available through the NCMA collection, the world’s largest and most diverse source of micro- and macroalgae for use in scientific research and applications.

“Expanding our marine macroalgae holdings is an important part of our long-term efforts to increase support for global algae science," said Senior Research Scientist Michael Lomas, NCMA director. "This growth diversifies our collection and helps us harness algae's potential for remarkable scientific discoveries.”

Scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of Connecticut developed the kelp collection, which contains microscopic cells that act as seeds for the macroalgae. For many samples, it also provides a wealth of genetic data to better help preserve strains and grow them for further use and distribution.

The two institutes reached out to NCMA for help preserving and distributing the algae for research. The addition includes kelp from the broader New England area that was specifically gathered to explore beneficial seaweed applications. There is a growing global interest in the opportunity for sustainable uses of macroalgae, including in food, cosmetics, fertilizer, pharmaceuticals, medical therapeutics, and textiles.

“Seaweed solutions are much more sustainable than the fossil fuels that have contributed to the current climate crisis, and the recognition for seaweeds’ potential is expanding,” Lomas said. “By providing companies access to a wide diversity of macroalgae strains and working alongside them to support their research, we can help them navigate inevitable challenges and implement real solutions.”

Global aquaculture production of seaweeds already has an economic value of $14.8 billion. The vast majority of production is in Asia, but demand in American markets is rapidly increasing. In the coastal waters of New England, seaweed aquaculture is one of the fastest-growing industries. Part of NCMA’s core mission is to support these efforts, and others like it, and both the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy help fund its work to grow algal research and production in the United States.

“By having all of these strains, there is almost limitless untapped potential for research and other opportunities we haven't even begun to think about yet,” Lomas said. “There are dozens of companies working with macroalgae to save the planet and more are to come. It’s a really hot topic right now, and it's going to get even bigger.”