When wastes turns to food: Spirulina as your Superman and Aquaman

Written by Nicole Mae Halasan
Illustration by Savio Aquino
Published 2021 June 23

Superman. Wonder Woman. Spiderman. Aquaman. And other superhero figures surely have their own attributes and superpowers that make them unique and have their own trademark. But is it possible to find two superpowers in just one entity? Well, a discovered potential of Spirulina will prove to you that nothing is impossible when God is the engineer for it materializes as an existing testimony for this. 

Spirulina is a kind of cyanobacteria, specifically a blue-green algae, that is widely tagged as a “superfood” or a “miracle from the sea” for it offers numerous health benefits to those who ingest it, knowing that Spirulina has high nutritive value and has verified potential in curing some medical conditions. According to several established studies and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), it holds copious nutrients such as calcium, niacin, potassium, magnesium, B vitamins, iron and even some essential amino acids–making it a very potent supplement, antioxidant, in suppressing malnutrition cases and even an additive in some food products like candies. Apart from this, its medicinal properties covers wide-ranging health issues, spanning from alleviating metabolism problems such as weight loss and  diabetes, and other risk factors for heart diseases, particularly high cholesterol, up to treating disparate mental illnesses like depression, anxiety disorders, stress and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It also aids in giving remedy to premenstrual prodromes, Lou Gehrig’s disease which is a complication in the neuromuscular system and in eliminating arsenic in the body when combined with zinc. [1]

But there’s more to this, as it has been ascertained that Spirulina could also serve as an aquafeed to aquaculture products like tilapia and bangus, stemming from the foregoing fact that it contains significant amounts of nutrients, has high protein content, undemanding when it comes to its cultivation and contains functional and bioactive compounds. These properties could surely boost the growth of the fishes and confer them resistance from environmental stress, giving them a refined quality and hence has a beneficial effect to its consumers. However, a protruding hurdle in the acknowledgement of this potentiality is that Spirulina per se when produced in a commercial-scale is an expensive resource due to the uneconomical culture medium that it employs. Zarrouk’s medium, being a sample of such, is the gold standard culture medium for Spirulina production which entails very costly materials when it comes to its preparation. With this drawback, a review article entitled “A review on Spirulina: alternative media for cultivation and nutritive value as an aquafeed” authored by a faculty member of the Department of Biology of Ateneo de Manila University, Janice A. Ragaza, Ph.D. along with her co-authors from various institutions, Md. Sakhawat Hossain, Kristen A. Meiler, Stephanie F. Velasquez and Vikas Kumar, put up an array of hope against this impediment. It has been revealed in the article that scraps like food wastes, industrial effluents, and processing by-products could be an alternative culture media for Spirulina cultivation. Various studies have shown that animal wastes with that from cattle and swine, wastewater, seawater and even crop-based organic substrates like molasses could be prospective substitutes for Zarrouk’s medium. This is because they can still preserve the most favorable conditions like ample light, 30°C temperature, pH of 8.5 or above, good water quality, and nutrients (primarily nitrogen, carbon, phosphorus, sodium and potassium) that the microalgae needs in order to achieve full growth and high biomass production. Moreover, another novel alternative that is prevalent in Asian countries like Philippines are rice mill wastes such as rice bran for it keeps hold of the vital nutrients (phosphorus, crude protein, potassium and fatty acids) that should be present in an efficient culture medium for Spirulina cultivation. [2]

With these scientific discoveries, this could firmly help the aquaculture industry in rearing products that have unquestionable quality and quantity, especially that nowadays main aquafeed ingredients like fishmeal and fish oil are extensively under a dearth of supply due to high demand. As such, alternative aquafeed like Spirulina that could now be cultivated using low-cost media stands a great opportunity for fisherfolks that are haunted by this economical plight. Quoting a statement made by Dr. Ragaza, “Food fish such as tilapia, bangus, etc. that are fed with spirulina would ideally have better growth and fillet quality and are deemed “healthier”. There is some truth in the saying, “You are what you eat.” When you eat healthier and good quality food fish, then you would also expect to obtain, digest, and absorb high quality (and quantity) nutrients such as protein, lipids, and a lot more from the fish.”

Spirulina has indeed proven that you wouldn’t know what it can give you, unless you unleash it on your own. It being a superfood and now an aquafeed just slap you with the reality that superpowers seen from fictional figures were not just figment of imagination but it actually lives in the image of a small but terrible, microalgae, your superman and aquaman all in one Spirulina.

References

  1.  Cox L. 2017.  Spirulina: Nutrition Facts & Health Benefits [Internet]. Live Science: [cited 2021 May 22]. Available from: https://www.livescience.com/48853-spirulina-supplement-facts.html
  2. Ragaza JA, Hossain S, Meiler KA, Velasquez, SF. 2020. A review on Spirulina: alternative media for cultivation and nutritive value as an aquafeed. Reviews in Aquaculture. [cited 2021 May 22]. 1-25 pp. https://doi.org/10.1111/raq.12439

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