The Clover Corporation, an Australian omega-3 producer, is considering the possibility that micoalgae could offer an alternative source of omega-3 oil.

Currently, Clover's primary source of omega-3 oils used in functional food products is fish. But this is an expensive raw material, and Clover has previously stated that it is looking for a cheaper alternative.

Microalgae convert carbohydrates into beneficial oils that travel through the food chain to fish and then (via the foods we eat) us. With a grant of AUS$1m (US$730,000), the company is working with scientists at the CSIRO research institute to determine whether docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) oil for human consumption can be extracted directly from microalgae.

Research thus far has isolated microalgae strains that are efficient producers of (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) under laboratory conditions.

"We'll be evaluating the scale-up potential of microalgae in large-scale culture vessels," said Clover director Guy Drummond in a statement.

"The market opportunity will be evaluated and a selected strain used to prepare samples at pilot-plant scale. The challenge is to scale up the volume while maintaining their production efficiency and beneficial oil profile," he explained.

Two companies, Germany's Nutrinova and US-based Martek, already use microalgae as a source of omega-3. However, the expensive extraction greatly inflates the price of these oils. Clover hopes that new research will allow cheap and efficient mass production