Study finds sea lettuce seaweed strains could play key role in Irish aquaculture

Sea lettuce strains in the laboratory. Credit: Antoine Fort, NUIG.


Seaweed researchers from the Ryan Institute and School of Natural Sciences at National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) have carried out a study identifying strains of seaweed which are most suited for aquaculture and agriculture in Ireland as part of the GENIALG project. The study discovered that certain strains of Ulva species or sea lettuce could return higher yields than others.

This year-long, first of its kind study was recently published in Plant Physiology (see In particular the study highlighted that:

  • Sea lettuce species possess a unique daily growth pattern and primary metabolism, with higher growth rates during the night than during the light period;
  • There is large variability in growth and metabolism among morphologically similar sea lettuce strains;
  • Strain selection is justified in order to increase the biomass, metabolite yields and nutrient removal in the aquaculture industry.

Sea lettuce is a fast-growing green alga with a high nutritive value, they are rich in polysaccharides, protein, amino acids, minerals and vitamins, as a result sea lettuces’ commercial value is growing, for example it is excellent for use in food supplements, in fortified animal feeds and other industrial applications.

Nevertheless, the physiological differences between the sea lettuce strains still need to be defined. Also, the sea lettuce strains currently being grown in aquaculture are often sourced from opportunistic collection from the wild without prior selection of the top performing strains. Subsequently, it will be necessary to identify any potential variability in growth and metabolism between seaweed strains to ultimately be able to select the top performing strains under different environmental conditions.

From NUIG, Antoine Fort stated: “The study paves the way towards the domestication and breeding of elite strains of seaweed blooms (Ulva) for aquaculture, similar to what has been done for crop plants since the beginning of agriculture”.

Research will continue on the sea lettuce strains, with the next stage involving the sequencing of the strain genomes, to identify the genes which are responsible for the fast growth and high nutritional content.

This research is funded by the EU Horizon 2020 project GENIALG.

To read the published paper click here

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