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Bigelow Laboratory opens new algae research center

September 24, 2013

The new research facility at Bigelow Laboratory houses the world's largest phytoplankton collection and, with more than 2,600 strains, provides cultures for scientists around the world.

The new research facility at Bigelow Laboratory houses the world’s largest phytoplankton collection and, with more than 2,600 strains, provides cultures for scientists around the world.

The world-renowned Provasoli-Guillard National Center for Marine Algae and Microbiota (NCMA) – part of Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences – has expanded into the new, high-tech Norton Center for Blue Biotechnology (NCBB) on the Laboratory’s Ocean Science and Education Campus in East Boothbay, Maine.

The first science wing to be completed on the new campus, the NCBB provides facilities for research that applies molecular biology and microbial ecology to the viruses, bacteria, archaea, and algae living in diverse environments throughout the world’s oceans – in order to understand their evolution, genetic and chemical make-up, and their culture and industrial application. NCBB scientists work with the vast reservoir of microbial organisms in the natural environment and those preserved in cultures.

The NCBB houses the Single Cell Genomics Center, the world’s first microbial single cell genomics facility; the Provasoli-Guillard National Center for Marine Algae and Microbiota, containing one the world’s first combined collections of marine algae, bacteria, archaea, and viruses; the J. J. MacIsaac Facility for Aquatic Cytometry, a state-of-the-art flow cytometry laboratory; a bioreactor facility; and the Geomicrobiology Laboratory.

With 2,739 individual strains in 39 taxonomic classes that represent all the major photosynthetic groups, the NCMA maintains the largest and most diverse repository of living marine microalgae in the world. The NCMA is the leading global distributor of marine microalgae for scientific and industrial research, having sold its cultures to more than 3,000 customers in 57 countries over its 30-year history in the business.

“These are the same strains that started as an ad hoc collection over 40 years ago,” said Dr. Willie Wilson, Director of NCMA. “This was essentially a seed stock of highly nutritious algae for the aquaculture industry.”

Over the years, the NCMA has evolved to become a one-stop service facility for researchers and industries working with marine and freshwater algae, bacteria, archaea, and viruses. Services range from private collections and patent deposits to consulting and professional education courses, and includes NCMA’s large collection of high lipid algae strains specifically isolated for use in aquaculture and now used extensively in biofuels research, as well as a new, customer-oriented website.

Construction of the Norton Center for Blue Biotechnology was made possible by the Maine Technology Asset Fund and the people of Maine who voted to pass the Research and Development Bond in 2007, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Maine Technology Institute, and individual supporters.

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