Microalgae are the key to the health of the planet. They are the basis of the aquatic food chain playing a key role in the environmental health of oceans, rivers and freshwaters.

The challenge

Understanding microalgae

Many species of microalgae are useful to us. Some produce omega3 oils and other oils that could be developed as biofuels. The pigments of phytoplankton, which are floating microalgae, can be used by remote sensing satellites to characterise the world’s oceans.

A bioluminescent Noctiluca bloom in southern Tasmania, May 2015.  ©Blackpaw Photography

Some microalgae produce toxins that are harmful to humans and animals. Some can proliferate as algal blooms, consuming oxygen, destroying aquatic life and causing health risks. Understanding these harmful algal blooms is essential to managing  environmental health.

Our response

Collecting, culturing and characterising Australia's microalgae

Cultures of microalgae from our collection are being used to provide pigment reference material to inform descriptions of phytoplankton community composition on a regional scale, globally. Pigment analyses of algal cultures and other bio-optical measurements are used to ground truth estimates of phytoplankton biomass and other aspects of water quality detected by satellites.

Our microalgae collection holds representative strains of the majority of algae that are responsible for harmful algal blooms (HABs) in Australian coastal, marine, estuarine and fresh waters.

We are using these strains to research life histories, phytoplankton dynamics, nutrient interactions, genetic typing and gene expression, and control of toxin production, helping improve biogeochemical models and aid environmental management.  We are also looking at the importance of algal-bacterial interactions in HAB development and toxicity.

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