Kicking off the COMBO project

Hortimare recently visited Galway University to kick off an exciting project called COMBO. This project offers valuable insights and explores various molecular techniques to enhance seaweed and sponge cultivation. It is led by Prof. Olivier Thomas, from the University of Galway.

The key takeaways of Marianne Verberne and Ligia Ayres are listed below:

  • Targeting the pharmaceutical sector holds great potential for seaweed cultivation in Europe and the USA. According to Prof. Olivier Thomas, a marine biodiscovery researcher from the University of Galway, there is currently a discrepancy between the species that can be cultivated and the species that interest the pharmaceutical sector. Therefore, research is needed on how to cultivate species that have never been domesticated. Think about it like the early forms of the grains we now eat, which used to look more like grass. The level of cultivation of these seaweed species is still at this level.
  • Promising seaweed species for this project are Laurencia pinnatifida and Dictyota dichotoma, as they are rich in a group of bioactive compounds called terpenes. These compounds are part of the algae’s natural defense mechanism, created by millions of years of evolution. Applications of terpenes include anti-cancer, anti-inflammation, repressing immune diseases, and anti-microbial effects.
fig 1. Terpenoids targeted in combo
  • The target species Laurencia pinnatifida and Dictyota dichotoma are found all over the world. Therefore, results from just a few strains in one area won’t give generalized results for the entire species distribution. We will be receiving samples from different parts of the world, such as Cape Town, the Mediterranean, Ireland, and the Pacific Ocean. We will have the opportunity to go on sampling trips around the world, led by Maggie Reddy, PhD from the University of Cape Town.
Fig. 2 Sampling locations – Seaweed & sponges
  • Land-based cultivation systems are especially suitable to reach the quality desired by the pharmaceutical industry. Therefore, we’ll be working closely with Mungo Murphy’s Seaweed Company in Ireland to prepare their land-based aquaculture facilities. Cultivating seaweed in combination with the established abalone cultivation would allow them to return the seawater cleaner than it entered the system.
  • The possibilities of OMICS technology to speed up the domestication of seaweed species seem endless. It can tell us a lot about the microbiome and holobiome, the pathways of synthesis of valuable molecules, and the optimization of seaweed growth. We’re very excited to learn from the results of COMBO in this regard and to use it to optimize our protocols.
  • Seaweed also has millions of years of evolution together with microbes, and their interdependency seems to be a rule rather than an exception – as beautifully said by Detmer Sipkema from Wageningen University. There could be big potential for co-culturing of microbes and kelp to suppress harmul contamination taking over our cultures, just like a probiotic supplement. For the scientific community, this is exciting as it brings us closer to achieving axenic cultures, which unlocks new fundamental research directions.
Project overview
  • The seaweed industry has made a lot of promises regarding environmental impact, and these must be based on facts to build up a sustainable and robust industry. By calculating the environmental footprint of culturing and cultivation, we get a quantitative view of the positive and negative impact we’re having on the environment. We’re happy to see this important topic has been included as a work package.

The project initiators have managed to bring together leading research organizations such as Centre national de la recherche scientifique, Wageningen University, University of Galway, DTU, University of Angers and more! We are honoured to be amongst them and work together. Together we catalyse the potential of seaweed.

Would you like to have more information? Don’t hesitate to contact Suzan as a project Coordinator or Gabriel as a research coordinator.