The Cawthron Institute Culture Collection of Micro-Algae is a nationally significant living collection which contains nine classes of micro-algae. Several species are unique to New Zealand or have properties not found in overseas isolates;
The collection is the only one of its kind in New Zealand, and is highly ranked in the Asia-Pacific region, where it is a member of the Asia Oceania Algae Collection network.
The collection underpins many of Cawthron’s research programmes and is also crucial to understanding harmful algae blooms (HABs) identified as a major risk to the shellfish industry. Many strains are now backed up by cyropreservation.
The collection supports identification of algae in routine water samples giving industry and public health regulators advance warning of HABs. This has recently been extended to include fresh water bodies that may be contaminated by cyanobacteria.
Many of the micro-algae marine biotoxins have been mass produced for the development of reference standards for regulatory authorities. Examples of toxins produced by micro-algae in the collection include the cyclic imines (spirolides, gymnodimine, pinnatoxins), neurotoxins (saxitoxins, domoic acid, palytoxin) and diarrhetic toxins such as okadaic acid and its diol esters.
The collection houses micro-algae with the capability to produce valuable bioactive compounds and some of these have been identified and isolated only from New Zealand waters. Many potential uses of these compounds are being investigated, including production of commodity and higher value products. Some of the species are being explored for their utility in renewable energy value chains.