SPEAKING to the Alltech International Symposium last month, Rebecca Timmons, global director of applications research and quality for Alltech, highlighted the latest applications for algae in livestock and human nutrition.
While most of the attention has focused primarily on algae as a source for biofuel, microalgae contain large quantities of high-quality eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) that can bring additional nutritional improvements to feeds and food, Timmons said.
DHA is an important nutrient for brain and eye development as well as heart health an immunity, she said.
Currently, the most common sources of DHA are fish meal and fish oil. However, Timmons said these products can often be inconsistent, unsustainable, unavailable, poor quality and unsafe.
Algae is at the very base of the food chain, and the DHA and EPA found in fish meal and fish oil are created by algae, she noted.
The diverse nature of algae — from microscopic species to macroalgae such as seaweed — allows for two main production methods, Timmons explained. Autotrophic systems are outside and rely on sunlight, while heterotrophic systems are closed, controlled systems that are very traceable, much like with yeast fermentation, she noted.
At Alltech's algae production facility — a heterotrophic system — in Winchester, Ky., Alltech SP-1 was recently developed to provide a consistent source of algae with a range of benefits for a variety of species as well as improvements for both ends of the value chain.
As the aquaculture industries have tried to become more sustainable, farmed fish have increasingly been fed diets consisting primarily of vegetable meals such as soybean meal. However, this practice has lowered the DHA and EPA levels in the fish, Timmons said, suggesting that a better strategy is to source DHA and EPA directly from algae production.
When fed to animals, algae-sourced DHA has been shown to improve the animals' fertility and increase DHA levels in the meat and eggs, which can subsequently be branded as value-added DHA omega-3 enriched for consumers.
"It's going to be twofold: You're going to have those benefits to the animals as well as through the enriched product to consumers. This means you will be improving your return while creating a healthier population of both humans and animals all at the same time," Timmons concluded.