ETHIOPIA – Ethiopia is set to launch its first ever laboratory for producing microalgae seeds as by-product for the production of food supplements aimed to fight malnutrition among children in the country.

The laboratory worth Birr 8 million (US$227m) is expected to start production in six months-time and will be run by the Ethiopian Biotechnology Institute.

It is a containerized laboratory that can be moved between multiple sites, with an air conditioner, a microscope, accessory materials and automatic backup generators among other features.

Once operational, it will be able to produce up to 100lt of inocula at a time. The inocula will be used to feed algae ponds, which can produce 200tn of dry spirulina per year, a supplement and ingredient made from blue-green algae, reports Addis Fortune.

Supported by the Ministry of Innovation & Technology, the idea was conceived by researchers at Addis Abeba University.

The lab can also be used as an isolation, training and quality control centre.

“Although many attempts have been made to conduct research on micro-algae at various institutions and universities, it failed due to the unfavorable environment, and the general microbiology laboratory has not been able to meet the requirements the micro-algae need,” said Kassahun Tesfaye, director-general Ethiopian Biotechnology Institute.

Micro-algae are used to provide nourishment to humans and animals. They prevent stunted growth, which is a largely irreversible result of chronic under-nutrition that leads to weaker immune systems and diminished cognitive capacity.

In Ethiopia, about 35% of children under five years age are suffering from chronic malnutrition, stunting or low height-for-age.

In the long term, the Institute plans to produce child formula in Ethiopia.

After the replication of the micro-algae seeds, the Institute will work on substituting the import of nutritional products and to penetrate the export market, as well as by involving the private sector, since the country has a potential source of genetic micro-algae.

Globally, Unilever and biotech start-up Algenuity have partnered to delve into the huge potential microalgae bring in innovating future foods for Unilever’s plant-based portfolio.

Algenuity, which specialises in developing microalgae for use in consumer products, will work with the R&D team within Unilever’s Foods and Refreshment (F&R) division to explore ways of bringing foods made with microalgae to the market.

Developing alternative protein sources like microalgae represents a significant step forwards in the critical shift needed to an equitable and resilient food system.

Unilever and Algenuity recognise the key role that diverse, plant-based proteins like microalgae will play in transitioning towards this new food system.

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