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University of Queensland research is helping Queensland-based agricultural-biotechnology company Qponics Limited (ASSOB:QPO) build a competitive edge for launching onto the high-growth, billion-dollar global omega-3 oils market.

Facilitated by UQ’s main commercialisation company, UniQuest, through its Consulting and Research division, Associate Professor Peer Schenk’s contract with Qponics involves harvesting omega-3 oil from organically grown algae rather than fish stocks or plants.

Qponics is an agricultural-biotechnology company specialising in semi-rural and urban production of high-quality organic omega-3 oils from the cultivation of algae integrated into a sustainable combined aquaculture-horticulture process.

DHA1 and EPA2 omega-3 oils are essential in healthy brain development; however, studies in Western countries indicate most adults and over 70% of children may be deficient in these oils.

“Consumer demand is increasing for omega-3 oils as a nutritional supplement to prevent various neurological, cardiovascular and degenerative diseases,” said Associate Professor Schenk, from UQ’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences.

“My team is working with Qponics to develop a renewable and organic source of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly for vegetarians, infants and pregnant women, as an alternative to traditional plant and fish-based sources, like flaxseed and Atlantic salmon. 

“While fish are currently the most common source, their numbers are in global decline and most vegetarians don’t consume fish or fish oil. 

“Our research involves collecting Australian algae strains from various freshwater environments and examining conditions for growth optimisation with a selection of potentially high quality oils,” said Associate Professor Schenk.

With omega-3-incorporated products emerging as strong player in the functional foods sector, the $US1.3 billion market for marine and algal ingredients has grown significantly to meet global consumption, which exceeds 70,000 tonnes per year.

Qponics is responding to the market’s 14 percent growth rate with plans to construct an organic algae oil production plant in the Camden area 60km south west of Sydney, which will optimise outcomes of the research. CEO, Dr Graeme Barnett, said the research contract with The University of Queensland will provide a significant boost to the company’s market entry.

“Because we will continuously farm the oil-producing algae, which are single-celled photosynthetic plants, there are no issues about sustainability and our omega-3 oil will be vegetarian-friendly,” said Dr Barnett.

“Our aim is to sell ethically produced DHA/EPA omega-3 oils to a wider segment of the global market, which will present a more viable option both to companies that use omega-3 in their products and to end-consumers of products who are looking for quality, healthy alternatives to fish-based products.”

“The University of Queensland is one of Australia’s most prestigious universities and is recognised around the world for its high-quality research,” Dr Barnett said.

“Utilising the excellent resources available at the University has been a strategic decision by Qponics to accelerate the development of our DHA/EPA omega-3 oil products.”

UniQuest Managing Director, David Henderson, said the Qponics research contract highlighted the economic benefits of industry-academic collaborations.

“Engaging with researchers at The University of Queensland offers emerging companies like Qponics a range of competitive advantages,” Mr Henderson said.

“Accessing the University’s high-tech equipment and multi-disciplinary expert teams, for example, can save companies thousands of dollars in establishment and operational costs.

“University researchers are perpetual innovators, looking for new and better ways to understand how to extract the best value from organic and man-made materials, and this knowledge can make a significant difference to the rate and performance of a company’s product development.”

The 12-month contract with Qponics is one of several research projects UniQuest has facilitated this year between the University and Australian companies contributing to the national economic, export and innovation agendas.

1. DHA Docosahexaenoic acid; 2. EPA Eicosapentaenoic acid

Media enquiries: 
UniQuest: Leanne Wyvill on +61 (0) 7 3365 4037, +61 (0) 409 767 199 or l.wyvill@uniquest.com.au
Qponics: James Blaxland on +61 (0) 439 860 521 or james@zakazukha.com