New algae omega 3s player Qualitas goes head to head with krill

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Qualitas cultivates its algae in open ponds in West Texas.
Qualitas cultivates its algae in open ponds in West Texas.

Related tags Algae Omega-3 fatty acid Epa

When Qualitas Health debuts its EPA algal oil at Supply Side West in November it says it believes it will be the only algal omega-3s source based on polar lipids on the market. And to demonstrate the ingredient’s effectiveness, the company has released the results of a plasma concentration study that matches its oil against its closest competitor from a composition standpoint—krill oil.

Qualitas derives its algal oil from a salt water, photosynthetic species of algae called Nannochloropsis oculata.​  The species yields an oil rich in EPA (with no DHA) that is bound to phospholipids and glycolipids, known together as polar lipids.  Krill oil is similar in that it has a large phospholipid fraction, giving rise to its claims of better digestibility and better bioavailability of its omega 3s as compared to fish oils.  Qualitas’ new ingredient makes the same claims of digestibility and more efficient delivery.

“That’s the connection and parallel that we are making.  That’s one of the reasons that we did the study,”​ Michael Kagan, vice president of new product development told NutraIngredinets-USA.

“We are positioning our oil as a third generation after fish, then krill and then us. The goal was to show equivalency to krill and we were very happy to see that it was better than krill,”​ he said.

Study details

In the study Qualitas’ reseach partner recruited 10 healthy males aged 18-45 years and gave them a standard high fat (55 g) breakfast followed by either algal oil (providing 1.5 g EPA and no DHA) or krill oil (providing 1.02 g EPA and 0.54 g DHA). All participants consumed both oils in random order and separated by 7 days. Blood samples were collected before the breakfast and at several time points up to 10 hours after taking the oils.

“Plasma EPA concentration increased with both algal and krill oils, but was higher with algal oil reflecting its higher EPA content. The mean increase in plasma EPA with algal oil was 100% higher than with krill oil. Participants consumed 1.5 g EPA from algal oil and 1 g EPA from krill oil. This suggests that on a gram-per-gram basis algal oil may be a more effective source of EPA than krill oil,”​ the study authors wrote.

Interestingly, DHA concentrations were similar between the two oils. The study authors admitted they were unsure why this would be, as EPA is inefficiently converted into DHA but they speculated that it might have something to do with the algal oil’s glycolipid content.

However, in response to the claims of superiority, Wael Massrieh, PhD, VP of scientific affairs for krill supplier Neptune Technologies & Bioressources Inc., told us: "Besides major issues in the design of the study, it is quite evident that the difference in results is attributed to the difference in dose between the two groups, with Krill oil being used at 66% less than the Almega PL product, and not due to a superiority of AlmegaPL bioavailability as the authors claim”​.

Sustainability argument

Despite this, Qualitas is claiming that their ingredient—called Almega PL—can be seen as a viable alternative to krill oil on the efficaciousness front, potentially giving consumers fleeing the fish oil burps another choice besides krill. It also has sustainability bona fides that could be attractive in comparison to krill. While krill harvesters have worked hard in recent years to refine their operations and obtain fishery certifications, they are still harvesting wild animals in one of the last untrammeled, pristine environments on earth.

Qualitas, by comparison, is growing its photosynthetic algae on desert scrubland that would be low grade pasture at best otherwise. Qualitas has headquarters in Israel but produces its algae near the West Texas town of Imperial. Its strain thrives on the brackish groundwater of the region which is unfit for almost all other purposes and the company avails itself of waste carbon dioxide gas from the oil and gas industry in the region that would otherwise find its way into the atmosphere.

Avoiding contamination

But all of the above wouldn’t mean much if the company can’t find a way to efficiently bring its ingredient to market.  Cost effectiveness has always been the Achilles heel of algal technologies.  Lots of different types of bioreactors have been demonstrated in the proof of concept stage, but inflates these to commercial scale has been a big hurdle to clear.

That’s why growing algae outside in raceway ponds is the only way to go, Kagan believes.  Photobioreactors are great for niche markets like astaxanthin, he said, but to supply a huge market like that for omega 3s, a more scalable technology is called for.

“It’s a natural product;  we have not interfered with it genetically in any way. We have open ponds with our own proprietary technologies around it and we grow a scalable and sustainable culture on a semi continuous harvesting basis,”​ he said.

One of the criticisms of open pond culture is that contamination becomes a problem, and the algae grower ends up with a community of organisms and not just the one they are looking for.

“We happen to have a strain that is very robust, very easy to identify. We find that when the strain is it ideal conditions of temperature and media, in other words when it has the right food for it, it is able to dominate and suppress the growth of other species.  It is when the strain is under stress that is when you get biological contaminants,”​ Kagan said.

Source: Lipids in Health and Disease​ 
2013, 12​:102, doi:10.1186/1476-511X-12-102
Acute appearance of fatty acids in human plasma — a comparative study between polar lipid-rich oil from the microalgae Nannochloropsis oculata and krill oil in healthy young males.
Authors: M.L. Kagan, A.L. West, C. Zante, P.C. Calder

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1 comment

Microalga image may be misleading

Posted by Sushanta,

It is true that microalga Nannochloropsis oculata contains EPA rich lipids, but the image shown in this article seems not of N. oculata, instead it appears to be another microalga Haematococcus sp.

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