Green gold in Brittany’s blue economy


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At the western edge of France, Finistère – literally ‘the end of the earth’ – is the point where northern Europe meets the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a place of high biodiversity and a centre of European marine science funding. Founded in 1872, the Station Biologique in Roscoff is the oldest marine biology institute in the world. Now, it is one of the European Marine Biological Resource Centre’s 13 stations, and 60 percent of French funding in marine sciences comes to major port and university town, Brest.

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Green gold in Brittany’s blue economy

  1. 1. I N C O R P O R AT I N G f i s h far m ing t e c h no l og y November | December 2013 Green gold in Brittany’s blue economy International Aquafeed is published six times a year by Perendale Publishers Ltd of the United Kingdom. All data is published in good faith, based on information received, and while every care is taken to prevent inaccuracies, the publishers accept no liability for any errors or omissions or for the consequences of action taken on the basis of information published. ©Copyright 2013 Perendale Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without prior permission of the copyright owner. Printed by Perendale Publishers Ltd. ISSN: 1464-0058 The International magazine for the aquaculture feed industry
  2. 2. FEATURE Green gold in Brittany’s blue economy by Richard Sillett, deputy editor A t the western edge of France, Finistère – literally ‘the end of the earth’ – is the point where northern Europe meets the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a place of high biodiversity and a centre of European marine science funding. Founded in 1872, the Station Biologique in Roscoff is the oldest marine biology institute in the world. Now, it is one of the European Marine Biological Resource Centre’s 13 stations, and 60 percent of French funding in marine sciences comes to major port and university town, Brest. It’s also a historic seaweed hotspot. In 1811, French chemist Bernard Courtois discovered Iodine after extracting the element from local algae. Kelp is a traditional component in Brittany for food, animal feed and fertilizer. Local spas have been using it in their therapies for more than a hundred years. And now Olmix are one of a group of Breton businesses looking to bring seaweed products into the modern age, with a new biorefinery the centrepiece of a process to extract the only partly understood properties of macroalgae. Macroalgae extracts These properties are varied, and macroalgae extracts demonstrate great potential for a world where new feed sources have to do much more than provide enough protein. While the benefits of algae extracts for soil, animals and humans have been traditionally acknowledged, research at Roscoff and elsewhere is beginning to grasp the scientific basis to their extraordinary versatility. Experimental trials with marine algal extracts have shown them to have antiviral, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulating, antioxidant and antitumoral effects. For aquaculture, where fish health and company profits alike are being stymied by ineffective vaccines and restrictions on antibiotics, the development of products with such effects is a tremendously exciting prospect. The key seems to lie in sulphated polysaccharides, large carbohydrate molecules which in the plant kingdom only exist in seaweed (and not freshwater algae or land plants). Polysaccharides themselves are a structurally diverse kind of molecule, consisting of a repeating series of monosaccharide units joined to each other by covalent bonds. These polysaccharides can branch out into complex chains, forming polymers of immense potential variability. Familiar polysaccharides like cellulose and starch are one thing, but the heart of marine algae’s benefits seems to be in their sulphation. Fucans (found in brown algae), Carageenan (from red algae) and Ulvans (found in green algae, and which Olmix are harvesting off the coast of Brittany) are three examples of sulphated polysaccharides, so-called because of the presence of sulphur in the molecular ‘backbone’ forming the structure of the sugars’. Research shows that only sulphated algal extracts mimic the properties seen in natural seaweed. Ulvan potential To date, published research has largely focused on fucans and carageenans, however, it is the potential of ulvans from green algae which most excites Olmix’s scientists. Consultant veterinarian Hervé Demais is upbeat about them. ‘Because of green seaweeds’ very diverse and versatile chemical compositions, there is still a lot to discover regarding their biological activities. Because of their natural availability on our coasts and because until now they have been poorly studied, they are our core target.’ Detailed studies have been carried out to discover the chemical basis for the antiviral, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects of marine algal polysaccharides. Tests with the Herpes simplex virus have established that SO3 ions in the polysaccharides bind with glycoproteins in the virus, preventing any entry into the cell. The greater the sulphate content, the more inhibited viral replication becomes. The effect is stereospecific, which is to say certain kinds of polysaccharide only inhibit certain kinds of viruses. Research continues into finding more antiviral ‘matches’ for the algal extracts. Animals treated with fucoidan (extracted from brown algae) in trials saw anti-inflammatory effects achieved without lowering arterial blood pressure. The marine algal polysaccharides appear to bind with basal leukocytes (white blood cells), preventing their rolling motion and blocking them from migrating from the blood stream to the targeted tissue. Immunomodulatory effects have also been 18 | INterNatIoNal AquAFeed | November-December 2013
  3. 3. FEATURE observed, and indeed research into the interaction of marine sulphated polysaccharides and the immune system’s Pattern Recognition Receptors (PRRs) has recently aroused plenty of excitement in the animal health industry. Polysaccharides fucoidan and λ-carrageenan (from red algae) have been shown to bind with PRRs, altering the animal’s adaptive immune response and therefore potentially enhancing vaccine intake. Information transfer The miraculous effects of marine algal polysaccharides on organisms that naturally may never encounter them are neither magical nor even coincidental. The immune system, like brain functions and science journalism, relies on the transfer of information. The sugars that combine to form long polysaccharide chains can interconnect at several points in the molecule – a combination of four distinct sugar monomers can form 35-560 unique polysaccharides. This variability makes them ideal vehicles for biological information, activating the live outside of the ocean. This may have something to do with the occurrence of sulphated polysaccharides in animals, fungi and bacteria, but not land plants. It’s this similarity that opens the lines of communication between disparate kinds of organism. Although algae and mammals are far apart in the evolutionary tree of life, biological characteristics inherited from their shared ancestors are providing valuable opportunities for human and animal health. Valorisation During the recent biorefinery launch, one word you could hear over and over again was valorisation, a French word describing the process of finding uses or products for new knowledge or inventions. Essentially, it’s about turning scientific discovery into industrial reality. 'It is important to give more value to algae than a simple commodity,' says Dr Demais. 'Algae has a lot of particularities that can’t be found in terrestrial plants (such as marine sulfated polysaccharides), and these particularities deserve to be exploited ADDITIVES FOR AQUACULTURE SOLUTIONS NUTRACEUTICALS AND PHYTOBIOTICS FOR AQUACULTURE Growth promoters Anti-parasites Attractants Hepatoprotectors Antioxidants Detoxifiers Chelated minerals Technical supervisor for aquaculture Adrien Louyer pictured with Ecofish, an aquaculture feed additive from Olmix still in development numerous cells and functions of the immune system. And although biologists tend to regard green and often red algae as plants, the separation between the marine and land varieties began 700 million years ago, as green plants started to and transformed into high-value products. 'Valorization means all the steps and technologies that will have to be put together to transform a product that nobody was using, to its potential as a top product that will achieve its part C/ San Romualdo 12-14 • 28037 Madrid (Spain) +34 902 15 77 11 • +34 91 725 08 00 • November-December 2013 | INterNatIoNal AquAFeed | 19
  4. 4. FEATURE in the challenge of feeding nine billion humans. We don’t have a choice but to use all the opportunities that can be found on earth to deal with this challenge. Valorisation is to give the chance to nature to express its full potential by using high technology.' The algae biorefinery, the first of its kind, brings to a larger scale a process already used by Olmix to extract its ‘green gold’ from the ocean. The ULVANS (Ulves Valorisation Nutrition Santé) project has brought them together with four other local businesses and research centres to develop a viable algae sector centred around Plouénan, the coastal town on the northwestern corner of Brittany. The 25 million euro investment (subsidised for an amount of 10 million euros by the regional government) shows how seriously the seaweed economy is being taken Macroalgae can also be used in fish farm design to absorb toxic molecules from waste water frequently link it with water pollution and, if allowed to decompose on shore, it can be toxic to humans and animals. A fleet of small boats patrols Brittany’s shores, preventing those environmental nuisances and harvesting what for the ULVANS group is an invaluable resource. Alongside the more famous scoubidou (a hooked rotating bar adapted for brown algae, collecting the seaweed like spaghetti on a fork while leaving the seabed intact), new methods designed specifically for green algae are constantly being developed. Tractors and amphibious vehicles are also used for harvesting in shallower waters. The Plouénan plant currently deals with the washing and grinding phase of the process. The seaweed enters a series of three tanks by conveyor belt. First sediment is allowed to fall away, next the algae ‘leaves’ are separated, and finally they are spun and dried. The purification process takes six to eight minutes. Grinding blades then reduce the algae to millimetre-thick pieces, which are then stored either for transportation or freezing. The Tanks in the Roscoff Station Biologique laboratory as an avenue for future growth. During a bleak period for European economies this marks a significant bucking of the trend. The biorefinery itself sits on the site of an unused artichoke processing plant, which had become a local symbol for the decline of Brittany’s traditional agricultural sector. Indeed, French agricultural cooperative SICA chose to pool their knowledge after discovering their own work extracting valuable molecules from vegetables overlapped with Olmix's own work on marine plants. Ulva lactuca is processed at the new biorefinery Algae processing The algae processing carried out at the plant is a clear example of valorisation in action. Green algae suffers from many of the same image problems experienced by traditional aquaculture. It’s an eyesore, people 20 | INterNatIoNal AquAFeed | November-December 2013
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  6. 6. FEATURE warehouse has 4 000 m2 of storage surface (and further space for 1 000 pallets kept at -20 °C), and the purification unit can process five tonnes an hour. Statistics like these make clear the scale of Brittany’s ambitions for its algae economy. The processed algae is taken inland to Olmix’s plant (and headquarters) in Bréhan, 10 km from the company’s initial base as a supplier of sulphates for animal feeds in St-Etienne-du-Gué-de-l’Isle. There, high-value molecules including sulphated polysaccharides are extracted and processed into a marketable form. The advantages include greater control of the whole process, from harvesting Interview Hervé Balusson, Olmix President and CEO How will the new biorefinery transform Olmix and the algae industry? 'First of all, to my knowledge the new biorefinery is unique and the first of its kind in the world. The function of this biorefinery is to process red, brown but mostly green algae, Ulva lactuca, into intermediates to be further converted into algae concentrates, substrates and molecules. These will service sectors such as health and nutrition for humans, animals and plants, as well as the prodution of ecologically friendly material, such as biodegradable alternatives to chemical-based plastic. 'This biorefinery is a tangible marker of the definite existence of an algae processing cluster in Brittany. This cluster brings together all the partners involved in the ULVANS project: Olmix, the SICA du Leon, PRP, Melspring, Amadéite, Agrival, the CNRS (French National Centre for Scientific Research) and the University of South Brittany. While Olmix was instrumental in the foundation of the ULVANS project and the creation of the refinery, the support from la SICA du Leon and from the CNRS has been, and remains, of vital importance. When the biorefinery is in full swing it will be able to supply Olmix and its associates with processed seaweed with consistency and reliability, in quantity and quality.' Tell me about how you had the idea to start exploiting Brittany’s seaweed resources. 'The use and processing of seaweed in Brittany is a very very old story. Indeed our ancestors, the Armorican Celts, going back 2,500 years, used seaweed in food, in fodder for the animals, as fertilizers for the land, and to make soap. Throughout millennia until now the harvesting and processing of seaweed has supported the activities and the livelihood of large populations established on the shores of Brittany. 'My personal interest, and Olmix's investment in products derived from seaweed, is not new. It goes back to more than 15 years when we created our litter conditioner, Mistral, but more forcefully when we developed Amadeite, a new biomaterial combining a unique mineral with the green algae, Ulva lactuca. 'Tomorrow we will feed the world through the benefits of macroalgae. We will feed fish and aquaculture species with macro and microingredients originating from the green algae. Tomorrow we will produce sustainable and ecologically sound sources of energy from the green algae biomass. 'Ten years ago many people called me a dreamer when I announced that green algae could be a source of social and economic benefits and ecologically friendly products. I had no dream – maybe a vision, and certainly a determination to turn what some called a calamity into a business opportunity.' Green algae has a poor image in the modern world. What benefits do you think Olmix can bring to the environment and to the region? 'Whenever and wherever large amounts of organic matter are left to decay in the fields or on the beaches, they generate environmental nuisances – in particular the foul smells which can be detrimental to the to finished product, and a steady line of production crucial for large-scale exploitation. The initial harvest and pre-treatment stages are taken care of by another ULVANS company, Agrival, leaving Olmix free to concentrate on preparing their final product. First, a concentrated ‘juice’ is separated from tourism industry. It is precisely with this concern in mind that we invested many years ago in a barge with specific equipment to collect the green algae before they reach the beaches. 'I am a Breton and I care for my country. I care for its international reputation, I care for its environment and I care for its employment at a time when it is shaken by serious economic turbulence and the closingdown of some large agricultural companies. I am not a nostalgic, I am an entrepreneur who believes that economy and ecology can be combined for the wellbeing and prosperity of Brittany. 'The “Blue Economy”, and in particular the harvesting, refining and processing of the algae biomass, can and will provide jobs in Brittany and will contribute to restoring employment in an economy facing the challenges of global competition. In Brittany we have the greatest biodiversity of seaweed in the world, we have the best and most knowledgeable scientists in algae research, we have great competences and talented young people. 'We have an ambition to develop and sell throughout the world a large range of products originating from algae, and originating from Brittany where the added value will be kept. We want to create jobs and to give a vision and a future to young Bretons. If sometimes some people blame me for blowing my trumpet, for sure it is not the trumpet of retreat but the bugle of the charge. 'Brittany must reconcile economy with ecology, and the Green and Blue economy with tourism. When Olmix and its partners collect the green algae on its barge to prevent them to coming to the beaches and decaying, they act as responsible ecologists.' I'm quite interested by the word valorization. As I understand it, it's about the process of finding uses or products for new knowledge or inventions. What does valorization mean to you? 'The collection of the green algae from the beaches and their burial has a cost, and is still costing large amount of money which accumulate year after year without any real prospect of termination. We believe that money would have been better spent finding means of preventing the floating banks of green algae coming ashore, and researching ways of taking advantages of a difficult situation. 'There is an English saying “where there is muck, there is gold”. This is true: provided the muck can be converted into gold. Aquaculture trials in Thailand have illustrated the benefits of macroalgae extracts, substantially reducing mortality in aqua species. The scientific discovery of the benefits of the macroalgal sulphated polysaccharides have already been turned into products and an industrial reality which is going from strength to strength. '“Valorisation” means giving value to matters and things that have been regarded as valueless at first sight, and extracting their benefits. Very often in history progress has been made out of crisis. “Valorisation” also means valorising the competence and expertise of our researchers, the dynamism and enthusiasm of our salesmen, the support of their families, the support of the authorities and of our financial contributors, and finally valorising the Breton people. 'The processing of macroalgae into feed and food ingredients, into pharmaceuticals, fertilisers and energy offers great business opportunities, opportunities for the creation of jobs. Too much time has already been wasted. The time has come now for action, not for sterile rhetoric.' 22 | INterNatIoNal AquAFeed | November-December 2013
  7. 7. FEATURE the ground algae by way of a belt press. The dry ‘cake’ can be used as a protein-rich macroingredient, and the juice continues its journey. A patented process of enzymatic hydrolysis to extract the molecules takes place in large vats. The plant site also contains a laboratory where the same task can be accomplished at a small scale. This way the extraction process can be closely monitored, modified and tested, giving technicians the flexibility to adapt the treatment of what is a seasonal and changeable raw material. After the vats, some of the extracts are combined with montmorillonite clay (also ground on site) and dried into a powder. Again, the Olmix lab is closely involved in the process, analysing samples periodically to ensure quality and safety are being maintained. Further research In 2002 Olmix began to research the concept of using algal polysaccharides to expand the interlayer space of montmorillonite, and hence its potential to bind bigger toxin molecules. The company's Amadeite and MTX+ animal health products demonstrated the viability of the idea and much of the algae extract is currently used for their manufacture. There is a benevolent kind of irony in this recycling of the polluting and potentially toxic 'green tides' into products which not only improve animal health, but actively bring down the ecologically-unsound use of farm antibiotics. The company has plans to expand its range into aquaculturespecific products. At the seminars and conferences which accompanied the biorefinery launch, many aquaculture and fish feed professionals were looking on, whether speaking or taking notes. A new complementary feed, Ecofish, is currently in the development stage. in a university study to bring the same benefits to shrimp as to livestock, and a new nutraceutical, Ecofish, is currently in the development stage. Algal extracts containing sulphated polysaccharides at Olmix’s laboratory in Bréhan, France In focus: Marine sulphated polysaccharides by Dr Hervé Demais, scientific advisor, Olmix 'Sulphated polysaccharides are very diverse and versatile compounds. Sulphated polysaccharides found in seaweeds share common structural features with other sulphated chemical structures which are found in other lineages of the evolution and that exert some biological properties. 'Regarding especially the immunological domain, it has recently been demonstrated that some cellular receptors of complex organisms can recognise specific structures that are common to groups of related microbes. These recognition mechanisms are the base of what is called the innate immunity. The cell receptors involved are called pattern recognition receptors (PRRs). 'The innate immune system recognizes molecular structures that are characteristic of microbial pathogens, but not mammalian cells. The microbial substances that stimulate innate immunity are called pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs). Some examples of PAMPs are lipopolysaccharides (LPS) and mannose-rich oligosaccharides. 'There are different types of PRRs, among which the toll-like receptors which recognize more specifically the bacterial LPS and peptidoglycans, and the C–type Lectin-like receptors which recognize more specifically the surface carbohydrates with terminal mannose and fructose. We can see clearly here that the presence of specific sugars under the form of polysaccharides is one of the common features of those PAMPs. 'Many publications today show that, just as PAMPs are recognized by mammalian cells, many different seaweed polysaccharides (fucoidans, carrageenans and ulvans) can be chemically recognized by mammal PRRs thanks to their structural similarity. The presence of sulphated rhamnose in those algal polysaccharides seems to be one of the key elements to the recognition mechanisms. 'Those recognition mechanisms trigger some of the cell and organism's defence mechanisms, the first being a signal transduction pathway called the NF-KB pathway in mammals leading to the activation of the first steps of inflammation and antiviral mechanisms.' These are interesting times for Brittany, as it begins to look to the sea again to revitalise its economy, and its scientists and businessmen scramble to understand and find markets for its marine resources. Olmix, meanwhile, is continuing its expansion into new markets and industries. Wherever algae is seen in the coming decades, it is likely they will be there. biomarine resources NEWS In print & online The biomarine resources directory brings together The number one news service for the biomarine industry, bringing you news and updates from around the industry globally suppliers to the industry and allied trades November-December 2013 | INterNatIoNal AquAFeed | 23
  8. 8. LINKS This digital re-print is part of the November | December 2013 edition of International Aquafeed magazine. Content from the magazine is available to view free-of-charge, both as a full online magazine on our website, and as an archive of individual features on the docstoc website. Please click here to view our other publications on • See the full issue I N C O R P O R AT I N G f I s h fA R m I N G T e C h N O l O G y Animal co-product hydrolysates: • Visit the International Aquafeed website • Contact the International Aquafeed Team • Subscribe to International Aquafeed – a source of key molecules in aquaculture feeds Prevalence of mycotoxins in aquafeed ingredients: – an update Pellet distribution modelling: – a tool for improved feed delivery in sea cages New functional fish feeds to reduce cardiovascular disease Vo l u m e 1 6 I s s u e 6 2 0 1 3 - N oV e m B e R | D e C e m B e R To purchase a paper copy of the magazine, or to subscribe to the paper edition please contact our Circulation and Subscriptions Manager on the link above. INFORMATION FOR ADVERTISERS - CLICK HERE