Innovation Hub: Interview with the R&D team at Necton

01 Oct 2020

Please tell us a little about Necton.

Necton is a leading Portuguese SME that focuses on the production of traditional sea salt and microalgal biomass. Founded in 1997, it is the oldest company in Europe producing and selling microalgae, mainly in the aquaculture and cosmetics sectors. Necton has gained significant scientific, technological and market knowledge on the feed, food, nutraceutical, pharmaceutical and bioenergy sectors.

The company has unique and distinctive experience in designing and operating different microalgae cultivation technologies, ranging from open to closed systems. Boasting a cultivation facility of four x 19m3 tubular photobioreactors, which totals 76m3 and a raceway of 200m3; the proprietary technology of the company makes it possible to cultivate freshwater, marine and hyper-saline microalgae of many genera. Our staff is experienced in the cultivation of 12 different microalgae species, including Nannochloropsis, Tisochrysis, Phaeodactylum, Tetraselmis and Skeletonema. All production activities have been blended with continuous R&D along the years and we have been involved in many national and European funded research and training projects. Our history, experience and constant collaboration with universities, research organisations and other companies have raised Necton’s status as one of the leading European companies in the microalgae biotechnology field.

 R&D team at Necton

What is Necton’s role in the SIMBA project?

Within the scope of SIMBA, Necton joins forces with Allmicroalgae to unravel the microbiome associated with industrial microalgae cultures to increase knowledge in this prominent, and growing, field. At Necton, we are studying the microbiomes of different marine microalgae strains, grown in the open and closed production systems in our industrial unit located in the south of Portugal. The two main microalgae strains produced by Necton, Tisochrysis lutea and Nannochloropsis oceanica, have already been sampled through a whole production season.

We are now fully characterising the microbiome using next generation sequencing technologies by the project partners. In addition, the microalgal biomass will be fully characterised from a biochemical point of view to understand the effect of different bacterial consortia in key target metabolites with commercial relevance (e.g., vitamin B12). Later in the project, tailor made high performing microbiomes will be developed and co-inoculated with the microalgae cultures at pilot scale to try to improve the growth performance of microalgal cultures and biochemical profile of produced biomass.

Why did Necton get involved in the project?

Necton’s main interest in SIMBA is to further understand the interactions that occur between the microalgae cells and associated microorganisms in the autotrophic cultures produced in industrial scale production systems.

It is widely recognised that bacteria play a prominent role in the growth performance and biochemical composition of autotrophic microalgae cells. Specific bacterial genera are known to produce phytohormones (e.g. auxins) and other metabolites (e.g. vitamin B12) that significantly enhance the growth of microalgal cultures, whereas other genera of bacteria produce compounds that inhibit their photosynthetic capacity. At the same time, complex bacterial consortia are responsible for the production of crucial metabolites that increase the market value of produced biomass including, for example, vitamin B12, which some microalgae strains are not able to produce de novo. For these reasons, it is crucial to increase the existing knowledge on the effect of the complex microbiomes associated with industrial microalgae cultures to fully understand their effect on the growth performance to increase the current biomass yields, as well as in the final biomass quality to increase the products’ market value.

What are the key innovations that you think will result from activities within the project?

As a microalgae producing company, we at Necton are confident that SIMBA will bring significant innovations to this growing field. Although the fundamental knowledge on the interactions between microalgae and associated bacteria is of the utmost importance, additional concrete solutions for the industry are an expected output of the project. The key innovation that we expect from SIMBA is the establishment of a minimal, tailor-made microbiome that can be co-inoculated with the microalgae cultures in industrial scale photobioreactors. If proven right, the established microbiome can have a significant, positive impact on the growth performance of microalgae cultures and biochemical composition of produced biomass. This innovation can be a breakthrough with high potential to drive sustainable development of the industry.