Meet the GENIALG Scientists

Meet the GENIALG Scientists showcases our seaweed researchers from across the project, outlining their backgrounds, specialisms, and motivations. These experts love to talk all things seaweed, so feel free to email them to hear more about these amazing algae!

Frank Neumann

Where you are from and where you are currently based?

I’m German, and based in Portugal, since 1999. By mid-2021, my usually frequent, regular travels to Norway to support the Trondheim-based SES team in operations and for meetings has been disrupted for too long!

Academic background and research areas

I Graduated in Civil Engineering (Dipl-Ing.), hydraulic structures; now working on improving offshore seaweed farming techniques and processing/logistics. Not directly connected to the seaweed sector, I also work on ocean wave energy development.

Favourite quote

Two classics we learned the hard way in the Norwegian Islands: “The early bird catches the worm” and “Never trust the weather forecast!”

Current work with GENIALG

I am working with Seaweed Solutions (SES) as WP3 leader, responsible for (i) work package coordination and ensuring GENIALG deliverables; (ii) leading of offshore farming techniques improvement; (iii) ensuring delivery of raw material to WP4 processing partners.

As a pioneer in offshore seaweed farming, since 2009 SES has strived for increased collaboration, mainly on an international level to accelerate the uptake of seaweed biomass in different markets. Environmental benefits of seaweed cultivation and the preservation of natural resources are among the main motivations for our team. In particular, EC collaboration projects like GENIALG are great vehicles to further develop this spirit!

One of our key findings in GENIALG is that there are a wide range of unexplored possibilities to valorise our raw material, and that we do not need to limit this to the food or feed market. Biomedical aspects in particular, but also increased valorisation in nutraceuticals and the progress of advanced processing/extraction techniques in the biorefinery context represent an interesting opportunity for the producers. Another aspect interesting to observe was that small, gradual learning steps can lead to astonishing success when working in the sea. It’s not always necessary to pursue over-ambitious high-tech, high-investment solutions in early stage, though, it is equally important to have visions for the latter.

neumann@seaweedsolutions.com

José M. Fariñas-Franco

Where you are from and where you are currently based?

I am Spanish, currently based in Ireland working between the National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) and Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT).

Academic background and research areas

Marine ecologist and Lecturer in Applied Freshwater and Marine Biology at GMIT, studying the functioning and biodiversity of coastal ecosystems and their responses to anthropogenic impacts, especially biogenic habitats created by bivalves and seaweed, and approaches to habitat restoration. I am interested in sustainable management of wild marine resources and the potential of aquaculture as a nature-based solution to restoration.

Favourite quote

“We need to restore the abundance of sea life and give marine ecosystems a chance to repair themselves if the planet is to remain healthy” – Callum Roberts, The Unnatural History of the Sea.

Current work with GENIALG

I study the interactions of offshore seaweed cultivation with the marine environment and its benefits as a provider of ecosystem services to people.

Although there are a few desk-based studies that have reviewed the potential positive and negative environmental impacts of seaweed aquaculture, there are none that have collected scientific evidence from real-world case studies.

Within the GENIALG project, my work aimed to fill that evidence gap, by designing a monitoring program to identify and quantify, for the first time in Europe, the environmental footprint of seaweed farms to ensure a sustainable and environmentally responsible practice and future upscaling of operations. We sampled the seabed habitats to detect any potential impacts in its physical parameters, e.g., organic matter and granulometry, and biodiversity, finding no detectable changes that could be attributed to the seaweed farm. I also conducted over a hundred SCUBA dives to monitor these habitats and the fish and invertebrates that live amongst the cultivated seaweed, finding solid evidence of their role as lush, nursery habitats for many species, noticeably pollock, catsharks and skate.

While investigating the effects that seaweed cultivated on longlines might have on physical water parameters such as light, currents and water quality, we found that seaweed farms act as sediment traps, improving water clarity and facilitating light to penetrate the water column and reach benthic primary producers such as seagrass. Seaweed farms can also act as de-facto exclusion zones for boats fishing or anchoring, therefore providing protection for these sensitive habitats.

Favourite seaweed fact

Seaweeds are ecosystem engineers that modify their environments providing habitat and feeding opportunities to a wide array of marine organisms. Seaweed, including cultivated seaweed, can be considered as ‘keystone species’ due to their crucial role in sustaining marine ecosystems and biodiversity. They also provide us with ecosystem services, ameliorating coastal erosion, maintaining water quality and removing atmospheric carbon.

Funny moment from the project

I had planned to use a baited remote underwater camera to record fish near the seaweed farm for quite a while but never found the opportunity. This was up until I remembered I left a bag full of pollock in the university fridge for over two weeks. Feeling a bit embarrassed about wasting all these good fish, I thought this was my call into action and set up the camera using all that rotting fish as the bait. I have over two hours worth of footage and the only fish I recorded were catshark that as soon as they got close to the rotting bait turned around just as quickly as they came!

Josemaria.farinas-franco@gmit.ie

Suzannah-Lynn (Suzi) Billing

Where you are from and where you are currently based?

British (international) and live in Scotland, working with GENIALG partner, SAMS.

Academic background and research areas

Senior postdoctoral researcher specialising in understanding the interactions between marine resource management and use and local communities, livelihoods, and cultures. Social acceptability and social license to operate are my particular areas of interest.

Favourite quote

“It actually doesn’t take much to be considered a difficult woman. That’s why there are so many of us.” – Jane Goodall.

Current work with GENIALG

I work at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), and within GENIALG I’m the leader of the task aiming to explore the social acceptability of seaweed cultivation on a site scale, with different types of cultivation systems and in different countries. I’m also involved in another task which brings together the results of WP6 (Socio-environmental benefits of seaweed farming) into a guide for best practices for seaweed farming.

The key finding from our research is that although seaweed cultivation has the potential to be a sustainable source of food, pharmacuticals, chemicals and much more, support for it at a government level does not always translate to social acceptability at a site scale. We found that cultivation organisations that work closely with local communities and organisations to create good dialogue tend to have positive relationships and better outcomes when it comes to planning for expansion. Those that do not make this type of effort tend to have more site-scale conflict and less favourable planning outcomes.

Our recent publication has some more results.

Favourite seaweed fact

Seaweed cultivation is not the same as harvesting of wild seaweed. We encountered so much confusion between these two very different industries in our research that I think it’s important we point it out!

Funny moment from the project

Note to self, Belgian beer is MUCH stronger than your average pint.

Suzi.billing@sams.ac.uk

Leonardo Gomez

Where you are from and where you are currently based?

I am from Argentina and I have been in the UK for 22 years. I work with GENIALG partner, University of York.

Academic background and research areas

I am a plant biologist and I have been working in cell wall and sugar metabolism more or less since my PhD. My current research focuses on improving the quality of biomass as a renewable feedstock to produce sustainable materials, biofuels and chemicals. I lead projects aimed at producing novel and sustainable materials from plant and algae biomass, with a focus on polymers and fibres. These projects involve improving the sustainability of processing and fractionation of biomass, as well as using genetic tools to improve biomass quality.

Favourite quote

“A child of five could understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five” - Groucho Marx

Current work with GENIALG

I am a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products, University of York, UK. Within the GENIALG Consortium, I work in Work Package 4 to improve the processing streams for seaweed, trying to maximise the number of products that can be obtained from raw seaweed. Although most of the work has been concentrated in the enzymatic fractionation of seaweed, my favourite part of the work has been the collaboration with fellow GENIALG partner IOTA Pharmaceuticals studying the effects of carotenoids on the inhibition of cancer cell proliferation. These carotenoids are extracted from Saccharina seaweed without the use of organic solvents. At present, we are integrating these extractions with further valorisation of the biomass.

Favourite seaweed fact

I am a plant biologist at heart, and I have been fascinated by the complexity and diversity of seaweed cell walls. It is fascinating how the adaptations to different environments are reflected in biochemical changes in the cell wall polymers. GENIALG has stimulated my curiosity in this field and recently I obtained funding to carry out research in seaweed-based polymers and textiles (Brown Seaweed Polymers and Seafibres, funded by BBNet, BBSRC).

Funny moment from the project

I had to delete and re-learn all I know about cell walls and cell wall analysis when I switched from land plants to seaweeds!

leonardo.gomez@york.ac.uk

Mark Gronnow

Where you are from and where you are currently based?

I’m Welsh and currently working in York, UK.

Academic background and research areas

I’m currently Process Development Unit Manager at the Biorenewables Development Centre (BDC). Prior to this, I received my PhD from the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence at York, applying microwave heating and catalysis to drug syntheses. After six years in industry, I re-joined the University of York before moving across to the BDC. The centre is an open-access, scale-up and R&D centre focussing on developing the bioeconomy through obtaining higher value products from biomass and waste.

Any advice for budding researchers?

Just get in the lab and try things, too many ideas are written off on paper (but still do your risk assessment!)

Current work within GENIALG

Our role in the GENIALG project has been to scale up processes developed in other areas of the consortium. We have worked on the extraction of very exciting plastic precursors directly from the seaweed using both conventional and microwave methods. We have also performed treatments on the seaweeds using enzyme cocktails to release compounds of interest. These 100L scale treatments have allowed us to better understand the process whilst generating larger quantities of material for other partners and potential end users to assess.

Favourite seaweed fact

Not really a fact but…what draws me to seaweed is the uniqueness. The structural components and extractives are so different to land biomass and waste, it’s so interesting to work with. I just wish it wasn’t so wet!

Funny moment from the project

The GENIALG project has made our whole pilot facility smell like the seaside!

mark.gronnow@york.ac.uk

Jorunn Skjermo

Where you are from and where you are currently based?

I am Norwegian and based in Trondheim, Norway.

Academic background and research areas

I have a PhD in marine aquaculture from NTNU and I work as a senior scientist at GENIALG partner SINTEF Ocean, with seaweed cultivation and upscaling for industrial purposes as my main specialty. I mostly work with sugar kelp, which is currently the most popular seaweed species to farm in Norway and the other Northern Atlantic regions. I also work with seaweed species like winged kelp and red dulse.

Current work within GENIALG

I work mainly in WP3, which is about farming of sugar kelp Saccharina latissima and sea lettuce Ulva sp. Here I am responsible for the tasks investigating how the biomass yield and quality can be improved through increased knowledge of the impacts that cultivation sites, seasonal variations, extra nutrients supply from fish farms (IMTA - Integrated multi-trophic aquaculture) and harvesting strategies can have on biomass yield and quality. I have done several cultivation trials with sugar kelp, both in open and sheltered sea and in IMTA. Among our most interesting findings is the successful growth of sugar kelp farmed at an open, exposed ocean site indicating that ocean farming is possible with this fast-growing kelp species and that we can use large sea areas for seaweed farming, avoiding conflicts of interests in the more near-shore areas. We also demonstrated increased biomass production in IMTA and interestingly that the chemical composition of this kelp did not differ significantly from kelp cultivated without exposure to fish farms. Data that we have obtained from the GENIALG field experiments and chemical analyses are further used for improving the seaweed growth models developed by my colleagues at SINTEF.

Favourite seaweed fact

Kelp farming is biomass production in the cold sea without the use of resources like feed, freshwater, agricultural soil, fertilisers and pesticides.

Final thoughts?

We must improve our use of resources that the ocean and plant photosynthesis can offer in our search for solutions to large societal challenges.

jorunn.skjermo@sintef.no

Isabel Costa

Where you are from and where you are currently based?

I’m Portuguese currently based in Portugal.

Academic background and research areas

I have a PhD in Aquatic Sciences and currently my research deals with the biology and ecology of seaweed.

Current work within GENIALG

I work at CIIMAR, being responsible for collecting and biobanking S. latissima strains, to be used for selection based on characteristics of interest for biomass production (WP2). I also worked in benchmark cultivation and yield optimisation, through LED light tests with Ulva spp. and S. latissima from different shores of Northwest Portuguese Coast (WP3). Additionally, as a CIIMAR partner, I’m involved in the development of a Manual on the best practices for seaweed farming (WP6), including biocontainment and management of pests and pathogens (WP6), and giving some support to WP7.

Favourite seaweed fact

In Portugal, there are mainly two seaweed mixtures used artisanally as agricultural fertilizer: the “moliço” and the “sargaço”. The “moliço” is a mixture of seaweed and seagrasses collected in the Ria de Aveiro lagoon (composed mainly of seaweed such as Ulva, Rhizoclonium, Gracilaria). The “sargaço” is also a mixture of seaweed (mainly Saccorhiza polychides, Laminaria, Fucus, Codium, Palmaria palmata and Chondrus crispus) and is traditionally collected in Northern Portugal (Viana do Castelo and Póvoa do Varzim).

Favourite quote

If it is a problem, it has a solution. If there is no solution, it is not a problem.

iazevedo@ciimar.up.pt

Philippe Potin

Name: Philippe Potin

Where you are from and where you are currently based?

I am French, a native of Brittany and based at the Station Biologique de Roscoff (CNRS), a marvellous place for algal research and coordinator of GENIALG.

Academic background and research areas:

I am Senior Scientist at CNRS in France. I hold a PhD in Marine Biology with specialty in the biochemistry of degrading enzymes of seaweed cell wall polysaccharides and biological properties of added-value derived oligosaccharides. My scientific interests are in the bases of pathogen defense reactions and signaling in marine algae, with an emphasis on the specific traits of marine plants such as the halide metabolism. Research in our team investigates fundamental processes underlying interactions between seaweeds and microbes. I was also involved in technology transfer with a SME company, developing the use of oligosaccharides for disease control in agricultural crops. I was also the scientific coordinator of IDEALG, a 10-year French integrative seaweed research project along with GENIALG, an innovation action. Since the beginning of 2021, I am the co-leader of the global Safe Seaweed Coalition with Vincent Doumeizel from the Lloyd’s Register Foundation and UN Global Compact.

Current research role, work and key results within GENIALG:

I have been the scientific coordinator of GENIALG for CNRS, based at the Station Biologique de Roscoff during the last four and a half years. We aimed to exploit the genetic diversity of two species of macroalgae to feed two innovative biorefinery platforms from 2017 to2021. GENIALG has approached all legal, financial, environmental, socio-economic and technical aspects to facilitate the development of this sector, from seaweed farming to the production of molecules of interest to industry. By combining a trans sector partnership with an integrated and sustainable approach, GENIALG intended to meet the market needs in the fields of health, nutrition, cosmetics and agriculture. New technologies, methods and tools (genomics and post-genomics) have been developed upstream of the chain for seeding, harvesting, rearing, cultivation and storage and downstream for pre-processing, fractionation, extraction and purification of biomolecules. Some of our key findings collectively achieved have been to demonstrate the technico-economic feasibility in Europe of land-based cultivation of the green alga Ulva and of Saccharina in open sea involving a better understanding of its genetics and physiological traits using for the first time genome-wide approaches and a customised phenotyping platform for strain selection. The biorefinery demonstrators also provided new possibilities for valorising existing products such as alginates and to develop new lead compounds for pharmaceutical applications such as with fucoxanthin or various fractions from Ulva which are used in different markets for animal and plant care and in the near future in human healthcare.

Seaweed fact:

Seaweed agricultural uses fact: Beach-casted and shore seaweeds have been used as a soil improver for centuries in many regions of the North Atlantic. In more recent times, liquid seaweed extracts have been marketed for use on many crops such as vegetables and berry fruits; faster growth, increased tolerance to abiotic stress and better products are obtained and the results have been linked to the presence of various stimuli in the extracts which precise structure remains to be elucidated. Their mode of actions is now better understood thanks to the application of various post-genomics and genetic approaches. The market of these biostimulants and of other algal extracts which induced innate immunity mechanisms in terrestrial plants is increasing very fast worldwide to eliminate agro-chemical intrants in modern agriculture. It will require to secure and diversify the sourcing for these extracts which is principally based on the exploitation of wild-harvested biomass of brown seaweeds. Today the biorefinery developments in the industry are providing fractions of alternative sources from cultivated seaweeds.

Funny story/incident from your GENIALG work:

Being able to run the GENIALG consortium since 2017 allowed all participants to become closer and to launch new initiatives within and in the continuation of the action. The most significative event for me was the opportunity to establish a contact in January 2020 with Vincent Doumeizel from the Llyod’s Register Foundation. A 1h30 meeting during a breakfast in Paris was sufficient to convince him that with our collective background implemented during GENIALG, we could be able to help him to build a strong global seaweed coalition that could make a revolution in the sector. Now the coalition is a reality networking several hundred of stakeholders worldwide (safeseaweedcoalition.org).

Any advice you would give or a favourite quote:

“It always seems impossible until it's done”- Nelson Mandela

potin@sb-roscoff.fr

Rachael Hallam

Name: Rachael Hallam

Where you are from (country) and where you are currently based (if different):

I’m British and based in York, working with GENIALG partner, University of York.

Academic background and research areas:

I’m a Technical Specialist with a background in analysing the composition of cell walls in terrestrial plant biomass. More recently, I have been working with seaweed cell walls on the GENIALG project.

Current research role, work and key results within GENIALG:

I work at the Centre of Novel Agricultural Products at the University of York. We lead Work Package 4 which focuses on the separation, fractionation and characterisation of high-value bio-based compounds as well as low-value commodity compounds. We have screened many combinations of cell wall hydrolysing enzymes to find the optimum way to break down seaweed cell walls to access compounds of interest to us. We have worked closely with our partners at the Biorenewables Development Centre to scale up this process.

Seaweed fact:

Many seaweeds contain medicinal compounds such as anti-inflammatories, anti-microbials and anti-cancer agents. These medicinal effects have been known for centuries, anecdotal evidence has told us the ancient Romans and Egyptians used seaweed as a medical treatment.

Any advice you would give or a favourite quote:

“Science is simply common sense at its best” – Thomas Huxley

Rachael.hallam@york.ac.uk

Pi Nyvall Collén

Name: Pi Nyvall Collén

Where you are from (country) and where you are currently based (if different):

I am from Sweden, and now based in France, since 2001, working for OLMIX since 2012.

Academic background and research areas:

I am a researcher specialised in biological activity of seaweed extracts, and particularly of polysaccharides.

Any advice you would give or a favourite quote:

Adaptability and communication are key elements when working in research in the private sector.

Current research role, work and key results within GENIALG:

I am the Scientific director of OLMIX group. I coordinate research and development projects on the use of seaweeds, from processing, production and stabilization of extracts and identification of the potential applications for plants and animals. Thanks to in vitro bioassays, we have shown that strain selection of cultivated Ulva allows to provide different pattern of bioactivity. The process applied on seaweeds during extraction also has a critical impact on the final bioactivity profile.

Seaweed fact:

Some species of the Ulvales order look like the well-known green Ulva sp. but they turn dark after harvesting! (e.g. Ulvaria obscura).

3:35 for presentation of GENIALG collaboration; 4:42 for collaboration with SBR & CNRS

PNyvallCollen@olmix.com

Ronan Sulpice

Name:

Ronan Sulpice

Where you are from (country) and where you are currently based (if different):

I am French and working at the National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) Ireland.

Academic background and research areas:

I am a lecturer, and my research interests encompass plant/seaweed physiology, biochemistry and genetics.

Current research role, work and key results within GENIALG:

I am involved in WP2 (Selection, breeding, germplasm and biobanking) and WP6 (Socio-environmental benefits of seaweed farming). During the project, at NUI Galway, we have developed new techniques for speeding up phenotyping and genotyping of Ulva spp. seaweed. We participated in improving current knowledge of Ulva spp. seaweed genetic diversity and showed how diverse varieties of the same Ulva species are in terms of growth, performance and nutritional composition. Our work opened the door for breeding programmes which will allow seaweed cultivators to grow varieties tailored to the specific requirements of their customers.

Seaweed fact:

Seaweeds are very diverse, and their cultivation can provide immense services to our planet and society.

Any advice you would give or a favourite quote:

Keep open to all ideas, think out of the box. A lot remains to be discovered and explained!

Pristine Coast: a company started as a result of their GENIALG research!

ronan.sulpice@nuigalway.ie