Algae Education: Post #1 Getting Started Culturing Algae

Algae are perfect organisms to use in the scientific classroom to demonstrate many principals of biology and the use of scientific equipment. Algae can be relatively easy to cultivate on the small scale which can provide a continuous supply of material for students to work with.

 

Tubes of algae samples being centrifuged. 

Tubes of algae samples being centrifuged. 

A few ideas of ways to work with algae in the classroom:

  • Demonstrate the use of the light microscope. This is a skill that biology students should have. 
  • Measure algal density using spectrophotometer, cell counts and dry weight. These methods are key to algae production and are not difficult to perform. 
  • Identify different types of algae. It is important to be able to identify potential contamination in your cultures. 
  • Setup and carry out experiments. There are endless possibilities here. Test how differences in media, nutrients, light, temperature or other environmental variables can affect algal growth. 

To get started culturing algae you will need:

  • Containers to cultivate the algae. Glass works well, with some kind of lid to minimize evaporation and contamination. 
  • A suitable place to grow the algae. Mainly what you need here is the proper level of light and temperature. 
  • Starter culture of algae. I provide a few of the most popular strains, however many more species are available through culture collections. 
  • A suitable growing media for the algae culture. There are many different kinds of media recipes available and also pre-made media are available. 

I will be adding more content to this website to help facilitate learning about the many different aspects of algae on our planet. Please contact me to let me know what kind of information you would like to see. 

 

Simple Solutions for Increased Algal Productivity

I firmly believe in the K.I.S.S method. Ockham, of Occam's razor surmised that in the absence of certainty, a hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be chosen. To me, this means that the simplest answer is the most correct. Although it is not easy to find the most elegant answer to a problem we must try. Since large scale production is still in its infancy, I've tried to determine how simplicity relates to yield of algae and algae products.

Often it seems like some people are employed to make things more difficult. Imagine how much time and resources would be saved, how many more projects would succeed if efficiency and efficacy were the rules. You get the idea, no matter which side of the line you stand. 

So, reducing complexity to simplicity is our goal. In terms of algal production the complexity is nature itself. All abiotic and biotic factors converging to influence the productivity and biochemical composition of a single cell. Much valuable work has been done studying how and where all of these data lie. But, we have yet been able to successfully apply this knowledge to meet our own estimates of algae production. 

My contention is that something as simple (yet with complex implications) as harvest and feeding regimes can have positive influences on algal biomass yields and biocompound production rates. If we can alter the culture management to influence our yields, within the range as defined by our system parameters, then we might be one small step closer to a operable production system. 

Now, look at this graph and see if you agree. 

Yield of algal cells in response to harvest volume, nutrient addition and media type. 

The above figure shows total number of Nannochloropsis salina cells yielded from an experiment with 12 treatments over the course of 25 days. The treatments are media, either f/2 or wastewater, added nutrients (+) or normal, and harvest volume (15, 30 or 45%). Letters above the bars indicate similarity (for shared letters) or dissimilarity. With this data set I am able to show that increasing harvest volume always results in increased yield, no matter the media or nutrient levels. This, I think, is simple and useful for anyone wanting to produce algae. That is the simple answer, and I will stop there. There is more to talk about in terms of harvest and feeding timing, and how this all influences bio-compound production. Keep thinking.