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Korea Institute of Ocean Science & Technology

KIOST replaces fetal bovine serum with marine microalgae extract

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  • Date : 2021-03-31
Figure 1. Prototype appearance of Spirulina extract (SACCS) 바로보기 Figure 2. Marine photobioreactor for mass cultivation of Spirulina.png 바로보기

Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology (KIOST) President Kim Woong-seo has announced that Principal Research Scientist Kang Do-hyung has shown that substances extracted from marine microalgae are an effective replacement for fetal bovine serum in cell culture cultivation. It is expected that Spirulina will be used to resolve the ethical problems of fetal bovine serum, and that commercialization of Spirulina will follow.


Animal serum contains higher levels of the proteins and hormones involved in cell growth and function, and thus are used in the bio-pharmaceutical industry for growing cell cultures. Fetal bovine serum is particularly versatile; however, environmental and ethical issues have arisen around the process of obtaining it. For example, methane gas emitted by livestock is considered a cause of global warming. Further, from 750,000 to 1.5 million cows are raised to obtain the serum, and the process of extracting it has been deemed unethical because it involves the slaughter of cows and removal of their fetuses. KIOST researchers have focused on Spirulina, which contains highe levels of physiologically active substances such as proteins and carbohydrates. If Spirulina?a marine microalgae that absorbs large amounts of carbon dioxide?can replace animal serum, the process of extracting serum will be free of ethical and environmental issues. If it can be cultured in large quantities, the production of serum will be economically viable, and commercialization will be possible.
The researchers extracted a substance called SACCS* from Spirulina cells and then grew a cell culture, which requires a growth medium containing specific nutrients for embryoid body . Generally, serum with a concentration of 10-20% is added to the medium; however, in the study, Spirulina extract was added. The resulting cell growth rate, growth speed, other relevant indicators were extremely stable, and the effective replacement rate of fetal bovine serum was as high as 90%, depending on cell characteristics. The researchers determined that Spirulina extract is therefore an effective replacement for fetal bovine serum. The research results** were published in Scientific Reports (mrnIF***=77.143), a sister journal of Nature.
* SACCS: Spirulina animal cell culture solution
** Paper title Marine cyanobacterium Spirulina maxima as an alternate to the animal cell culture medium supplement
*** mrnIF (modified rank-normalized impact factor): an index that rates the impact of an article in the given subject area based on the number of times the article is cited

The researchers further asserted that "SACCS contains relatively higher levels of amino acids and minerals than does fetal bovine serum, and has the advantage of containing none of the contaminants or toxic microorganisms found in animal serum." In addition, because it contains antioxidants, SACCS is known to have positive effects on cell cultures. KIOST is currently transferring SACCS manufacturing technology to Seaweed Co,. Ltd., whose primary a commercial producer of cultured meat, and is spurring the company on to produce eco-friendly, edible cultured meat through use of marine algae.


Senior Researcher Kang Do-hyeong stated, “It has been known that Spirulina contains rich nutrients, but there has been a lack of research into mass producing raw materials and their use by second and third industries.” He added, “Since we have confirmed the possibility of replacing fetal bovine serum, we will focus on studies for mass production and standardization, which will contribute to optimization of future efficacy.”
 President Kim Woong-seo noted, “About 80% of the Earth's species live in the sea, but only a few have been used in our research. We will make good use of the biological resources provided by the sea to solve human challenges, including that of vaccine development.”



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Last Update : 2021-02-17