Principal Investigator
Agostinho Antunes

Leader Institution

Research Teams


iCULTURE: A digital bio-platform and co-culture bioprocess to prospect and utilize macroalgae responsibly and sustainably

Over 100 Megatons of seaweed constitute Europe's largest biomass, but less than 0.25% is utilized. Marine industry stakeholders are currently left with 50-70% of residual side-streams sold as low-cost fertilizers. Existing data on more than 10000 macroalgae species could help this industry to improve their processes but the data is too large and manual curation is not feasible. Despite the progression of artificial intelligence (A.I.) and digital instruments, these techniques have barely entered the biobased sector. iCulture is a cross-disciplinary consortium where European expertise on ICT, bioinformatic, biodiversity, biotechnology, synthetic biology and bioprocessing is combined to develop a set of digital toolboxes that can prospect for new species of seaweed, utilize these in microbial fermentation, and understand how to use it responsibly and sustainably. Over 80 TB of existing seaweed data and 700.000 genes will be mined by machine learning algorithms in an A.I. toolbox to identify macroalgae characteristics: growth, response to environmental conditions, chemical composition and more. These will be used by a predictive Model toolbox, with models for compositional changes, recovery, resilience and Dispersion, to deliver key features that are important for responsible resource management. A Bioprocess technology toolbox will use this information for a machine learning controlled microbial co-culture, that will convert complex sugar mixtures to catalysts producing high-value antimicrobials. The multiple benefits of this digital platform are 1) boost the prospecting efficiency of new species by using powerful A.I. algorithms 2) help to understand the potential and vulnerability of resources, so that a responsible management strategy can guide the operations of stakeholders, and 3) create a novel value-chain, valorizing European seaweed side-streams into valuable antimicrobials (>$150/kg) for feed, food and pharma, while reducing CO2 footprint more than 20%.