Brittany, a maritime environment, an exceptional location
Brittany, a region of France on the very western tip of the European continent, forms a peninsula jutting out into The Atlantic Ocean. Brittany enjoys an exceptional maritime situation, at the point where cold and warm waters meet and where they are constantly stirred by powerful tidal flows. This meeting of the waters, on the ancient Armorican massif bedrock, favors the development of an exceptional level of biodiversity, in a well-preserved natural environment under Natura 2000 protection, far from the contamination of human activities.
Algae, a long, long story
Algae belong to the family of chlorophyll-based plants able to develop by photosynthesis.
In the sea, they are the first link in the food chain, and the only one that can synthesize organic matter from mineral elements. There are algae of every shape and size, from tiny single-cell varieties that are only visible under the microscope to the better known varieties such as phaeophyceae (brown algae), rhodophyceae (red algae) or chlorophyceae (green algae).
Marine algae, which are eaten throughout the Far East, have always been put to a variety of uses in Brittany.
Fucales and laminariales (kelp) are still used as animal feed or fertiliser. Laminaria (Laminaria digitata) called “varech” in Breton, were still being used in the early 20th century as a source of potassium and iodine, extracted from their ashes. Nowadays, industry extracts alginic acid from the brown algae’s cell walls, as well as sodium and calcium alginates. Alginates from brown algae go into food products and are also used in dentistry (dental imprints, toothpaste, etc.).
Algae : a source of balance
Algae stand out from other plants though the diversity and quality of the trace elements and minerals they contain: calcium for bone growth, iodine to fight excess weight, magnesium to reduce stress…
They are also a source of amino acids, fibres and metabolites with antioxidant and anti-radicular properties, such as polyphenols, carotenoïds, vitamins, polyunsaturated fatty acids offering unlimited potential for R&D in the nutritional field.
The sea is also an unlimited source of active elements for cosmetics. Thanks to existing industry-R&D partnerships, knowledge is growing apace and “marine” formula are more and more effective to protect, moisten, soothe the skin and to help slimming and regeneration…
Algae are also widely used for pharmaceutical purposes, including as anticoagulant, antibacterial, antitumoral and antiviral agents, and for their cholesterol-reducing properties. Their anticoagulant properties, in particular, have been the subject of the most advanced research, especially in France.
In the old days, large quantities of red algae, and more particularly the extraordinary Chondrus crispus “carrageenans”, that our Breton grandmothers used to make a kind of sweet milky jelly, called “blancmange” or “pioca”. Nowadays, Breton red algae are used by the food-processing industry (for dairy products, desserts, meat products, soups, beverages, etc.), in cosmetics, and in pharmaceuticals, for their rheological (viscosity) properties, as stabilisers, thickening agents, or jellifying agents.
These polysaccharides, alginates and carrageenans are all recognised by European and international food regulations. Algae can also be edible, and Brittany provides a particularly favorable environment for cultivation, particularly in Natura 2000 protection areas. They can be produced along with oysters or mussels, that also require very high quality water. Brittany therefore produces very high quality edible algae. They are a source of vitamins, trace elements and minerals and are part of a balanced, healthy diet. Compared to other forms of agricultural produce, algae can be cultivated without encroaching on existing food-producing land.
A new resource : plankton and micro-algae
Plankton consists of phytoplankton or “plant” plankton, including in particular microalgae and zooplankton, the animal variety. Plankton is often microscopic and develops in aquatic environments. It includes a variety of organisms, from marine worms to bacteria, and a multitude of small crustaceans and microscopic algae. It illustrates the incredible diversity of life forms, through its colors, shapes, adaptations and the roles it plays within the different marine ecosystems. We devote a lot of R&D resources to the study of plankton, not only to ensure its preservation, but also to harness its resources and its roles in nature for the benefit of human nutrition, well-being and health.
Plankton is an essential factor in our planet’s cycle of elements and climate. Thanks to photosynthesis, phytoplankton captures great quantities of carbon dioxyde and helps to produce oxygen. Microalgae cultivation can thus be combined with carbon dioxide capture and nitrous waste recycling processes. It is a source of protein, polyunsaturated fatty acids (Omega 3…), vitamins and trace elements. It represents a particularly interesting extension for the food processing industry through the development of new food, health, cosmetic and pharmaceutical products.
Research & Development
The many scandals surrounding terrestrial animal food sources mean that they are no longer as popular as they once were. Algae, on the other hand, provide a plant-based source of active principles, giving them a distinct advantage. Many of Brittany’s rich and diverse plankton resources still remain to be explored. Our partnerships with Brittany’s universities and many marine environmental stations enable us to develop very advanced collaborative research. The diversity of our plankton resources is still under study and represents a potential biomolecular source that could well lead to promising medical and industrial applications.