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Mass production of zooplankton

We have built a pilot-scale bioreactor capable of continuously producing copepods. Here I share some thoughs about the peer-reviewed article we have published describing our bioreactor, developed at the NRCI.

By Alfonso Prado-Cabrero, PhD

The ‘green water’ bioreactor

Conceived to produce lutein as an alternative to the marigold flower, the bioreactor we describe in Scientific Reports has proven to have the potential to produce feed for farmed fish. Totally new to the field of aquaculture, It took us a long time to understand that the product of the bioreactor was much more than oil rich in astaxanthin and omega-3 fatty acids. And even longer to begin to glimpse the mechanism that has made it viable: Green water, used over millenia in ancient aquaculture, keeps the water chemistry stable.

Importantly, I believe that this bioreactor concept can be scaled up. However, we have to find out a way to illuminate it efficiently and cost-effectively. Zooplankton needings must also be met at significant depths. Once these challenges are overcome, we will get closer to commercial scale.

My objective is to achieve upscaling to contribute significantly to feeding farmed fish. But not only for larvae and juveniles, but also for adult fish. Interestingly, the productivity of the bioreactor is higher than that of, for instance, soybean. It is a question of whether the value of the essential amino acids, astaxanthin, EPA and DHA of the zooplankton produced exceeds the production costs. Personally, I think it is worth the effort to try if what is achieved is to alleviate the fishing pressure and the deforestation carried out to obtain raw materials for aquafeeds.

Alfonso Prado-Cabrero is a research fellow at Nutrition Research Centre Ireland, Waterford Institute of Technology. He is specialised in molecular biology, biotechnology, genetics, carotenoids and fatty acids.