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Francisca Vermeulen went from being a participant to becoming a co-organiser and lecturer on 2 EIT Food Education courses, Algae Biotechnology & Inspire-Restorative Aquaculture!

For Francisca Vermeulen, algae are a never-ending research topic. She has lived and done algae research in several countries, from New-Zealand to Iceland.

Today, she is working as a researcher at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), where she is also involved in the organisation of EIT Food courses on algal biotechnology and restorative aquaculture. 

02 Jul 2024

SAMS sounds like the place to be when you’re into algae. How did you land the job?

Francisca Vermeulen: ‘I’m originally from the Netherlands, where I obtained a master’s degree in cellular and molecular biology

For my PhD at the University of Wellington in New Zealand, I studied sea ice algae in Antarctica

When I attended one of EIT Food’s Algae Biotechnology courses in Iceland, I met Matthew Davey who is now a lecturer and associate professor at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS)

A few years later, when I was looking for a job, I contacted him, and he recommended that I would apply at SAMS. I have been working at SAMS since 2022.’ 

You’re not only a researcher and lecturer but you are also co-organising EIT courses. What is your role?

‘That’s right, SAMS is an EIT Food partner and when I started working there, I was also engaged in the organisation of two courses that are sponsored by EIT Food: algae biotech and restorative aquaculture.

The Inspire-Restorative Aquaculture course is an intensive three-week programme which provides training and theory in seaweed farming, finfish, shellfish and algae biology, culturing, growth and molecular and metabolite analysis

It also outlines the complex set of economic, environmental, technical, social, political and market issues that impact the aquaculture sector, and it encourages students to develop innovative solutions to increase the sector’s productivity and sustainability.

I’m involved in the development of the schedules, the workshops and the selection of the speakers

I also write the courses’ accreditations that need approval from EIT Food. 

For the algae biotech course, we focus on the use of algae in food, cleaning wastewater, novel algal compounds and other biotech applications

So, I went from being a participant to becoming a co-organiser and lecturer on the course.

Who are the participants of the courses?

‘We mainly attract master and PhD students, but also starting entrepreneurs who want to work with algae. 

We do try to broaden our audience and also reach designers, engineers or artists, for example. 

The algae biotech courses are organised together with Matis, a food and biotech R&D company from Iceland, Fraunhofer, a Germany-based leading organisation for applied research in Europe, and the University of Cambridge. 

The modules are both online and in-person. During the Covid pandemic, everything was online, which enabled us to really open up to the rest of the world. 

We had participants from South-Africa, Korea, Nigeria, China, Mexico, Indonesia … It was very interesting to exchange knowledge on such a diverse and international scale.’

 

What do you think is the future of algae in our food, and how can they contribute to a sustainable food system?

‘We see that algae are gradually becoming more known. It's no longer something ‘weird’. 

Many participants in the courses already have a background in algae. However, much remains to be done to optimise and automate the use of algae. 

The government also plays an important role in the regulations on algae in food. 

There is also the social aspect - many people still need to get used to the idea of eating algae. I think algae will not replace animal food but they can definitely contribute to the shift towards a more plant-based diet as a supplement or ingredient. They contain a lot of antioxidants, vitamins, and plant proteins, making them very suitable for vegetarians, vegans or athletes. You can also use them in innovative products like vegan mayo. 

Another asset is they can be grown indoors, so there is no need for pesticides and you can use seawater that is filtered and re-used. Growing indoors and using seawater also means non-agricultural land can be used and no drinking water is required, which can be a great benefit of many countries.’

Is food from Algae the future ? Scaling protein diversification

Editor's Note : 

The qualities of algae (high in proteins, in omega oils and in vitamins and minerals) mean algae are the perfect candidates to be a future staple of a healthy diet and an integral component if we are to build a more sustainable food system. To fulfill the huge potential that algae have, we need to explore how food system actors can turn consumer perceptions into consumer preference.
 

Across Europe and the world, protein consumption continues to be at the forefront of food systems debate. Whether it be the need to reduce meat consumption, a push to increase the consumption of locally grown food, or the evolving politicisation of food security and production, protein diversification is a trend that is here to stay. 

Consumers are increasingly seeking out affordable options that not only provide essential nutrients but also align with their values regarding health and environment. But what are the challenges that agrifood stakeholders working in this space are faced with?

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“I went from being a participant to becoming a co-organiser and lecturer on the course.For the algae biotech course, we focus on the use of algae in food, cleaning wastewater, novel algal compounds and other biotech applications. Many people still need to get used to the idea of eating algae. I think algae will not replace animal food but they can definitely contribute to the shift towards a more plant-based diet as a supplement or ingredient.”
Francisca Vermeulen, PDRA Algal Biotechnology, Scottish Association for Marine Science - Alumna EIT Food Algae Biotechnology Programme

Francisca's impact on society, environment & economy

People How is Algae impacting our Society ?

 

Algae in the shift towards a more healthy, plant-based diet, supplement or ingredient

Lots of antioxidants, vitamins, plant proteins - very suitable for athletes

Planet How is Algae impacting our Environment ?

 

Use of algae in cleaning wastewater

Algae grown indoors and using seawater - non-agricultural land can be used, no drinking water is required