Chinese and Irish collaboration research novel marine algae at the Marine Institute


Professor Cheng-Qi Fan from the East China Sea Fisheries Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Fisheries Science in Shanghai has just completed an internship in researching novel bioactive compounds from marine micro algae at the Marine Institute.    

Professor Fan’s research involved the culturing of a range of several strains of Irish phytoplankton species and the extraction of novel compounds from these. These extracts were then examined and analysed to observe potential bioactive properties. This initial programme has been very promising with a number of extracts obtained to study their potential for use as human medicines.  

“This is a very exciting collaboration and the results in a very short time have already shown that phytoplankton in Irish coastal waters are a rich source for novel bioactive compounds. Transforming these rich natural marine resources into commercial products requires strong research networks. Establishing links through internships such as this one is an excellent means to achieve this objective,” said Joe Silke, Section Manager of Marine Environment and Food Safety at the Marine Institute.  

Professor Fan who is a natural products chemist in fisheries biotechnology collaborated with Irish scientists on these bioactive compounds extracted from strains of Irish phytoplankton. The work was conducted as a joint project between Dr Fan, and the scientific teams at the Marine Institute Phytoplankton, Biotoxin labs and facilitated by the Beaufort Marine Biodiscovery programme at the Marine Institute under the guidance of Dr Margaret Rae.  

Commenting on the collaboration Professor Fan said, “this internship has been very worthwhile, and working alongside scientists in the Marine Institute has been a great opportunity to exchange ideas on the design of experiments which will benefit research at both of our agencies.”  

Research facilities at the Marine Institute were used including the state of the art phytoplankton culturing lab, the chromatography suite and the bioassay lab. The Nuclear Magnetic Resonance instrument at NUIGalway was also used for characterising compounds extracted by Professor Fan.  

This programme is an important component of the Marine Knowledge, Research and Innovation Strategy for Ireland 2007-2013 (Sea Change), which identified marine biodiscovery and biotechnology as areas of development for the country.  The demand for marine biomaterial products and for functional bioactive substances derived from marine micro algae, bacteria and seaweed is high due their potential uses in pharmaceutical products, cosmetic and food products that have medical benefits, and chemicals produced for agriculture and medical industries.  

Professor Fan’s work placement was a result of the Action Plan on Mutual cooperation in relation to the Agri food and Fisheries sector which was signed by Minister Coveney and the Chinese Vice Minister of Agriculture Niu Dun last year. The work placement was funded by the Department of Agriculture Food and Marine and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.