Alison Hughes was recruited in the third cohort of IBioIC PhD student (October 2017) to carry out research on the uses of high-value metabolites produced by Microalgae. This research brings together brings together collaborators from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, and Xanthella Ltd., Oban. Find out more about Alison and her PhD.

Microalgae produce a plethora of high-value metabolites which could be exploited for use in human health. Not only could microalgae contribute to global health, but this application can be used to lower the cost of producing sustainable biofuels and feedstocks from microalgal biomass. This research is supported by IBioIC and brings together collaborators from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, and Xanthella Ltd., Oban.

In the same way that humans produce adrenaline in response to 30-50 feral hogs, microalgae produce specialised metabolites when they feel threatened within their habitat. This may be due to competition from other micro-organisms, predation, or fluctuations in abiotic environmental factors. Due to the nature of these metabolites, they have strong bioactivity and specificity which we can utilise for human health.
My research probes the stress response of phylogenetically diverse microalgae and uses mass spectrometry to identify and prioritise metabolites with antimicrobial activity. This study is the first systematic investigation of nutrient stress across phyla using comparative metabolomics to truly explore the chemical space produced by these important microorganisms.

In collaboration with our industrial partners, Xanthella Ltd., we will also investigate the effect of narrowband wavelengths of light on the production of specialised metabolites. Their pilot facility in Ardnamurchan can hold 20,000 L of culture and the biomass remaining from extraction of antimicrobial metabolites could be used for aquaculture or biofuel production.

Collaborative Training Programme
Through the IBioIC-CTP programme I have expanded my network far beyond my university and specific area of research and belong to a cohort of industrial biotechnologists working in various fields across Scotland and the North of England.

I have gained invaluable experience as a member of the student organising committee for the IBioIC Annual Symposium which allowed me to invite experts in scientific communication to speak to our audience of PhD, MSc, and HND students. It made me realise my passion for public engagement and I have since become an editor with Women in Ocean Science blog which aims to promote and inspire working in all areas of ocean science.

Presenting at the IBioIC Annual Conference in 2019 allowed me to create new contacts with similar research interests and invite them to the University of Strathclyde to troubleshoot problems both groups were experiencing and discuss potential future collaborations.

The training provided through the IBioIC-CTP programme is separate from the technical training I have received as part of my PhD but has expanded my knowledge and understanding of the industrial biotechnology world and how to effectively promote myself and my research to different groups.