, Volume 35, Issue 2, pp 127-136

In vitro culture and conservation of microalgae: Applications for aquaculture, biotechnology and environmental research

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Summary

Microalgae are a highly diverse group of unicellular organisms comprising the eukaryotic protists and the prokaryotic cyanobacteria or blue-green algae. The microalgae have a unique environmental status; being virtually ubiquitous in euphotic aquatic niches, they can occupy extreme habitats ranging from tropical coral reefs to the polar regions, and they contribute to half of the globe’s photosynthetic activity. Furthermore, they form the basis of the food chain for more than 70% of the world’s biomass. Microalgae are a valuable environmental and biotechnological resource, and the aim of this review is to explore the use of in vitro technologies in the conservation and sustainable exploitation of this remarkable group of organisms. The first part of the review evaluates the importance of in vitro methods in the maintenance and conservation of microalgae and describes the central role of culture collections in applied algal research. The second part explores the application of microalgal in vitro technologies, particularly in the context of the aquaculture and biotechnology industries. Emphasis is placed upon the exploitation of economically important algal products including aquaculture feed, biomass production for the health care sector, green fertilizers, pigments, vitamins, antioxidants, and antimicrobial agents. The contribution that microalgae can make to environmental research is also appraised; for example, they have an important role as indicator organisms in environmental impact assessments. Similarly, designated culture collection strains of microalgae are used for ecotoxicity testing. Throughout the review, emphasis is placed on the application of in vitro techniques for the continued advancement of microalgal research. The paper concludes by assessing future perspectives for the novel application of microalgae and their products.