Siew-Moi PHANG

Program uses Singapore Time and is 8 hours ahead of GMT

BG Distinguished Lecture / Live Q&A Wed-03 Aug 12:45 – 13:30

Use of Algae in Recycling of Nutrients Arising from Anthropogenic Activities

The role of microalgae and macroalgae (seaweeds) in nutrient cycling has been recognised as a key contributor to maintenance of the network of chemical element fluxes in nature. This has become more important as the biogeochemistry of the planet becomes increasingly impacted by anthropogenic activities and the changing climate. The supply of oxygen via the first oxygenic photosynthetic cyanobacteria transformed the earth‘s atmosphere to allow the explosive diversification of life. Algae are important for the biogeochemical cycling of the chemical elements that they uptake, assimilate and produce. Since the first Industrial Revolution, there has been a shift in the load of elements (nutrients) from within the earth’s reservoirs to outside, due to accelerated extraction of various mineral resources as well as biomaterials from living biomass, for industrial applications. In particular, increase in nitrogen and phosphorus levels results in eutrophication in aquatic ecosystems. Algae are opportunistic and their highly efficient and versatile photosynthetic processes and fast growth lead to dire consequences of oxygen limitation and death. This opportunistic potential has been exploited for the development of ”Phycoremediation”, defined as the use of algae for bioconversion of nutrients in waste to useful products including clean, reusable water.

Although algae are primarily autotrophic and carry out photosynthesis, many species can metabolise organic carbon compounds in the absence (heterotrophy) or presence (mixotrophy) of light. The long evolutionary history of the algae endowed them with an assemblage of physiological strategies and biochemicals that allow them to thrive in unfavourable and even toxic environments. Algae can be found in waters over a wide range of temperature, pH, salinity and in coexistence with a diversity of metals and toxicants. Tropical countries produce large amounts of agro-industrial wastes which are amenable to bioremediation by algae, where the resulting biomass serve as feedstock for the production of value added products like feed, biofuel and industrial additives. Studies into the use of both microalgae and seaweeds for nutrient recovery and generation of useful algal biomass have been an important focus of the Algae Research Laboratory, University of Malaya. Our journey through the diversity of agroindustries, including aquaculture, will be shared in this talk. While the algae are touted as carbon reducing agents that contribute positively to climate management, they can also contribute to global warming. Marine algae emit halogenated compounds, which when released into the atmosphere, combine with the ozone, leading to breakdown of the ozone layer. The question is how much would tropical marine algae contribute to the global atmospheric load of halocarbons, especially in view of increased farming of both seaweeds and lipid-rich microalgae?

The algae have high adaptive capabilities. The University of Malaya Algae Culture Collection (UMACC) was established with the aim of conserving algal species found in polluted habitats, as much of our earlier work was on bioremediation. Of the algae in the UMACC, Chlorella UMACC001, was found to be very interesting, as it was able to grow well in various agro-industrial wastewaters, from rubber effluent (high ammonia content, low pH), to palm oil mill effluent (high COD) and even landfill leachate and textile dyes. How was this high versatility achieved? Physiological and molecular analyses may shed light on the adaptive strategies of the algae.

Emeritus Prof. Dr. Siew-Moi Phang pioneered Applied Phycological Research in Malaysia. She co-founded the Asia-Pacific Society of Applied Phycology (APSAP) and served as its President, as well as President of the Asian-Pacific Phycological Association, Member of the International Phycological Society Board of Directors, and Overseas Vice-President of the British Phycological Society. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM); Fellow of the Marine Biological Association, UK; and Executive Committee Member, International Association for Biological Oceanography. She served as the Director, Institute of Ocean and Earth Sciences (IOES), University of Malaya, from 2003 – 2018 and joined the UCSI University in 2019 as Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Postgraduate). Prof. Phang leads the Algal Research Group, which focusses on the applications of algae in food, biofuel, biomaterials and their role in environmental and climate management, which has active collaborations with international partners. She has received several awards, including the International Foundation for Science/King Baudouin Award; the University of Malaya Vice-Chancellor’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Publications; Newton Prize 2017, British High Commission; and the ASM “Top Research Scientist Malaysia, 2012” Award. She has produced 276 papers in indexed journals, 17 books and 57 book chapters; awarded 9 patents with 8 filed; produced 32 PhDs and 70 Masters graduates. She is Associate Editor of the Journal of Applied Phycology; Maritime Technology & Research Journal; Geoscience Letters; Resource Person, Malaysia Biodiversity Information System (MyBIS) and Chair, ASM Committee on Blue Economy.

Siew-Moi PHANG
University of Malaya
UCSI University