Biological and chemical diversity from the oceans


Microalgae in Healthcare Discovery & Development

GlycoMar is developing novel saccharide products from microalgae. These are entering our healthcare pipeline and are being evaluated for cosmeceutical applications. Microalgae offer GlycoMar a unique opportunity because they combine enormous biological diversity with suitability for commercial exploitation, because many can be grown in bioreactors.


Microalgae are microscopic unicellular algae, typically found in freshwater and marine environments and existing individually, or in chains or groups. Microalgae are an extremely diverse group of organisms, which include both prokaryotes and eukaryotes and covers 14 phyla with examples described from almost every possible habitat. An estimate of 200,000 – 800,000 species of microalgae is widely quoted, of which only about 35,000 are described. Microalgal habitats include freshwater, seawater, soils, and extreme environments.

Phylogenetic tree highlighting the diversity and distribution of algae (boxed groups; colours indicate the diversity of pigmentation) across the domains of life (adapted from For comparison animals and land plants are encircled in red and green, respectively.

The use of microalgae dates back around 2000 years to the Chinese, who used Nostoc to survive during famine, and to the Aztecs who collected and cultivated Spirulina. Over the last 50 years microalgae biotechnology has developed for several commercial applications, including: use in aquaculture (feed), use in nutrition and as a source of nutritional supplements, use as a source of cosmetic ingredients, and use in biofuel production. These applications include cultivation for production of high value products such as fatty acids and carotenoids as nutritional supplements, and active cosmetic skincare ingredients. To our knowledge, the only microalgal products which have application as pharmaceuticals are high purity omega 3 fatty acids. GlycoMar is pioneering the development of glycomolecules from microalgae for pharmaceutical applications.


Alga / classification Annual production
(t dry weight)
Application / product Production method
Arthropsira (Spirulina)
3000 Human & Animal nutrition, cosmetics, phycobiliproteins, phycocyanin Open ponds, natural lakes
2000 Human nutrition, aquaculture, cosmetics
Open ponds, basins, glass-tube PBR
Dunaliella salina
1200 Human nutrition, cosmetics, caroteneoids, b-carotene Open ponds, lagoons
Aphanizomenon flos-aquae
500 Human Nutrition Natural lakes
Haematococcus pluvialis
300 Aquaculture, astaxanthin Open ponds, PBR
Cryptothecodinium cohnii
240 t DHA oil DHA oil Fermentors (heterotrophic)
Chlamydomonas sp
NA GMO protein expression Glass Tube PBR, bag PBR
Tetraselmis sp.
Nannochloropsis sp.
Isochrysis sp.
Nitzschi sp.
NA Aquaculture feed  
Porphyridium sp NA Polysaccharide cosmetic ingredient Bag PBR

PBR - photobioreactor

Recent microalgal R&D has been driven by the biofuel industry which has led to significant global investment in basic and applied research and development of large scale production facilities around the world.