Swansea University researcher reveals ‘food of the future’ in BBC documentary

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A scientist from Swansea University’s Algal Team has revealed forefront research in a BBC documentary which set out to investigate the role of good and bad fats in our diet.

Dr Carole Llewellyn from the Department of Biosciences at Swansea University joined presenter Dr Saleyha Ahsan in The Truth About Fat, aired on 2 April, to explain how microscopic algae, the microalgae, can play an important role in providing us with the good fats our bodies need.

Dr Llewellyn said: “Our research focuses on microalgae so tiny we can’t see them with the naked eye.”

“These microalgae are microscopic living cells that can contain high levels of omega oils, the benefits of which have been well documented.”

During the programme, Dr Ahsan visited the Centre for Sustainable Aquaculture Research (CSAR) where Dr Llewellyn put the algae under the microscope.

Dr Llewellyn said: “Just a teaspoon of seawater can contain thousands of microalgal cells. These miniscule algae cells can contain up to 50% oil so they are a massive potential source of omega-3 fatty acids.”

However, due to the volumes of seawater that would be needed to obtain a sufficient biomass for extraction, the CSAR Algal team is cultivating the microalgae to high concentrations in large fence bioreactors called photobioreactors. Dr Llewellyn said: “Under controlled conditions of light and nutrients, the algae grow to high concentrations, making it easier to harness their omega-3 fatty acids.

“The resulting dry biomass is actually edible, and very rich in protein, nutrients and omega oil. From this we can produce a pure algal oil.”

“You can already buy algal products in health food shops and as the extent of its health benefits are realised, I am sure microalgae will become a more main stream source of food. It is a food for the future and is also very sustainable.”

Farmers are now trialling putting micro algae into feed for dairy cows and beef animals so that they produce milk and meat high in omega oil.

The Truth About Fat is currently available on BBC IPlayer.