SAMS news room

New centre to unlock algae potential

CCAP-ARIES was officially opened by Prof Saul Purton, Algae UK, Diana Murray, Chair of the SAMS Board, Prof Todd Walker, UHI Principal and Vice-Chancellor, and Christine Campbell, former Head of CCAP.
CCAP-ARIES was officially opened by Prof Saul Purton, Algae UK, Diana Murray, Chair of the SAMS Board, Prof Todd Walker, UHI Principal and Vice-Chancellor, and Christine Campbell, former Head of CCAP.

A laboratory based at SAMS is helping to unlock the huge potential of algae as a sustainable resource for new products and environmental solutions after opening a new £681,641 centre.

The Culture Collection for Algae and Protozoa (CCAP) holds around 3,000 strains of microscopic organisms such as marine and freshwater algae, cyanobacteria and protozoa, as well as some seaweeds and seaweed pathogens.

The nearly 100-year-old collection, one of the oldest and most biodiverse in the world, will be at the core of a new centre for algae production and analysis, the CCAP-ARIES (Algae Research, Innovation and Environmental Science) Centre. The state-of-the-art facility will help scientists around the world to discover new products and medicines and to understand the natural world in a changing climate.

The investment comes from the UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), which also funds the collection’s core running costs.

The Head of CCAP Dr Michael Ross said: “We have thousands of strains of algae that we maintain and supply to the research community and commercial companies, but there remains a wealth of untapped potential to be exploited in these organisms.

“Scientists around the world are looking for products useful to pharmaceuticals, cosmetics or to the food and beverage industries, and algae are high on the agenda given their natural diversity and ability to grow in a sustainable way. Researchers are also investigating the use of algae as a fuel, in cleaning up environmental pollutants and even their ability to absorb carbon. 

“Currently, we have limited capability in providing larger amounts of algae and associated genomic and metabolomic information to researchers and innovators in the field. Essentially, our customers want more biomass, they want to know what it is made of and to find the organism’s full genetic code.

“This investment will allow us to greatly increase sample volumes and to develop a unique ‘one-stop shop’ for environmental and innovative algal research.”

As part of the upgrade, CCAP has invested in specialised equipment to automate DNA extraction and purify DNA for genome sequencing. CCAP will collaborate with the new UK multi-million pound UKRI NERC Environmental Omics Facility (NEOF) to further enhance the analytical potential of its service.

Prof Michele Stanley, Associate Director for Science, Enterprise and Innovation at SAMS, said: “The field of algal research seeks to address a number of major societal challenges: food and energy security, water availability, ageing populations, increasing carbon dioxide levels and climate change linked to green growth and the blue economy.

“This investment by UKRI NERC in the CCAP-ARIES Centre will underpin the expansion we are seeing, both nationally and internationally, in this field of science and innovation.”

SAMS Director Prof Nicholas Owens said: “This funding reflects the professionalism and expertise of CCAP and its staff and I am delighted that UKRI NERC has invested in upscaling what is already a key resource in marine science.

“SAMS benefits greatly from hosting CCAP and the new capabilities will enhance our teaching provision, as well as our research, and will allow us to improve knowledge in the emerging seaweed farming industry.”

Dr Iain Williams, Director of Strategic Partnerships at UKRI NERC, said: “NERC National Capability funding enables the UK to deliver world-leading environmental science, support national strategic needs, and respond to emergencies. This includes providing highly specialist services such as sample collections, measurement facilities, research infrastructure, and data centres that have a critical mass in supporting effective operation, the development of skills, and the capabilities to carry out world-leading environmental science.

“These facilities, which include the Culture Collection of Algae and Protozoa at SAMS, enable UK environmental science to flourish, making the strongest possible contribution to the national agenda and meeting global environmental challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss.”

The CCAP collection originated from the Botanical Institute of the German University of Prague in the 1920s and came to the UK at the outbreak of WWII. In 1970 these cultures formed the basis of the Culture Centre of Algae and Protozoa at Cambridge, supported by UKRI NERC. In early 2004 the freshwater section of CCAP relocated to Scotland to join the marine section at SAMS.