Scientists from the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research hope their work with microalgae will lead to new treatments for high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Israeli scientists have isolated a strain of microalgae which produces large amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids that could be used to reduce blood pressure, chronic inflammation and blood cholesterol level, lowering the risk of heart attacks.

The researchers from Beersheba’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) discovered that the algal mutant, a microscopic algae found in freshwater, is capable of accumulating up to 15 percent (dry weight) of a polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), called Dihomo-γ-Linolenic Acid, or DGLA for short. They believe the algae is the only known plant source capable of producing such significant amounts of this fatty acid.

“Omega-6 PUFA are necessary as components of brain cell membranes and have various nutritional uses,” says Prof. Zvi HaCohen, who leads the research team from the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research (BIDR).

“DGLA is one of these PUFA, but appears in nature only as an intermediate in the biosynthesis of other compounds and does not accumulate to any appreciable concentration. There is no natural source for DGLA and although its beneficial effects are well known, very few clinical studies have been conducted,” he adds.

A treatment for life-threatening diseases

The research team also included the director of the Landau Laboratory at BIDR, Prof. Sammy Boussiba; director of the BIDR Prof. Avigad Vonshak; Dr. Inna Khozin-Goldberg; and Ph.D. student Pushkar Shrestha.

The scientists believe their find could have a significant impact on treatment for a range of severe diseases.

“The discovery of the IKG-1 microalgal mutant and its high content of DGLA could impact treatment of life-threatening diseases, such as chronic inflammations, multiple sclerosis and arteriosclerosis,” says Dr. Ora Horovitz, vice president of business development for BGN Technologies, the technology transfer and commercialization subsidiary of BGU.

The microalgal laboratory of BIDR specializes in microalgae and has developed a range of products that harness Negev resources like brackish water and abundant sunlight.

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