Extremophile Research

This research segment deals with the adaptation strategies and usability of cryophilic (= cold-loving) freshwater microalgae, i.e. snow and permafrost algae. Cryophilic algae are exposed to a variety of extreme stress factors in their natural habitats. First and foremost, these include low temperatures, intense light and UV radiation, dehydration and greatly varying nutrient availability and salt content. The goal is to characterize the isolates in terms of their diverse strategies for adapting to these extreme environmental parameters and to take the special enzymes and metabolites developed from the algae and use them in industrial applications.

The CCCryo culture collection, which is unparalleled in its scope and diversity, serves as the basis for this. The algae strains were collected and isolated during expeditions to the polar regions. Cyanobacteria, mosses, fungi and eubacteria are cultivated as well. The www.cccryo.fraunhofer.de website provides strain details and ordering information.


Octocopter system for airborne mapping
© Fraunhofer IZI-BB, Thomas Leya
Octocopter system for airborne mapping

The sixth expedition to Svalbard was undertaken in 2013. The mission was to gain a comprehensive overview of the distribution of snow algae fields along the entire Svalbard coast and nearby islands to the east. What had been unclear in the past was why red and green snow – the mass phenomenon of snow algae blooms – was very pronounced in some regions but did not occur in others. During the expedition in 2010, the availability of nutrients was ruled out as the sole factor. With the help of a remote-controlled octocopter system with VIS and IR cameras as well as chemical soil analysis, it was possible to now show how the predominant geological formations in the different regions of Svalbard and the small-scale topography affect the prevalence of snow algae. For example, these extremophile organisms prefer siliceous soils (sandstone and gneiss) with low pH levels and low carbonate levels over lime-rich regions. In contrast, there is a specific taxonomic group found particularly frequently in calcareous soils. Microclimatic conditions, such as sufficient precipitation, also appear to be important. These field results offer important clues into the ideal culture conditions for these complex algae.

From 2015 to 2016, two CCCryo strains »visited« the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the BIOMEX project coordinated by the German Aerospace Center (DLR). More specifically, they spent a good one and a half years just outside the ISS. After returning to earth, they exhibited their extraordinary adaptability to different conditions, which apparently also includes the extremes outside the ISS, e.g. vacuum, UV-A/B/C radiation and intense temperature fluctuations – nearly all samples survived their space journey.

Cold-Active Enzymes and Proteins

Recrystallization assay
© Fraunhofer IZI-BB, Thomas Leya
Recrystallization assay with ISP from the snow algae strain CCCryo 050-99 (scale = 50 μm)

Ice structuring proteins (ISP), which are also frequently referred to as ice binding proteins (IBP) or antifreeze proteins (AFP), are typical for obligate cryophilic snow algae. These proteins are released from single-cell algae and bind to the ice surfaces. Because they only bind to a certain layer of the ice crystals, they prevent uncontrolled growth and force the ice crystals to form a small, hexagonal bipyramidal structure, thus preventing the recrystallization that usually occurs in freezing solutions.

Algae Biomass as Starting Material for Cosmetic Additives

The Swiss company Mibelle AG Biochemistry develops innovative additives for cosmetics. During the long-standing partnership with Mibelle, a process has been developed for the industrial-scale production of special ingredients from snow algae. We are constantly developing and optimizing the production process. We also work according to standard operating procedures (SOP) to ensure the production of high-purity, uncontaminated algal biomass.

The »snow algae cosmetics« from various brands are currently sold in the cosmetics sector worldwide.

Other natural ingredients from CCCryo strains for innovative cosmetics are described in our brochure.

  • CCCryo algae culture collection containing over 450 isolates of cryophilic organisms (algae, cyanobacteria, fungi and mosses)
    The database of the CCCryo strain collection as well as ordering information are available on the website. The algae are available to public and industrial research institutions.
  • In-situ sterilizable glass tube photobioreactors in multiloop- and double-helix design with airlift principle (1 x 60 L, 2 x 30 L, 3 x 25 L, 6 x 10 L), total volume in sterile production process = approx. 255 L, with an annual capacity of approx. 100 kg fresh algae mass
  • Cryomicroscope with digital image processing
  • Gas chromatograph with FID detector (Agilent 7890B)
  • Element analyzer (EuroEA CNS)

  • A4F, AlgaFuel, SA, Lisbon (Portugal)
  • GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences, Potsdam (Germany)
  • German Aerospace Center (DLR), Berlin (Germany)
  • Humboldt University of Berlin, Berlin (Germany)
  • IOI Oleochemicals GmbH & Co. KG, Witten (Germany)
  • Mibelle Biochemistry, Mibelle AG, Buchs (Switzerland)
  • Culture Collection of Algae at University of Göttingen, Göttingen (Germany)
  • University of California UCLA, Los Angeles (USA)

  • Joussellin, S. (2017): Algues dans l'espace. http://www.rtl.fr/emission/innovations-week-end. RTL, 9 February 2017, Paris.
  • Coghlan, A. (2017): Primitive plants survive almost two years in outer space. New Sci. (9 February 2017)
  • Baqué, M., Böttger, U., Leya, T. & de Vera, J.-P. (2017): BIOMEX on EXPOSE-R2: First results on the preservation of Raman biosignatures after space exposure. - Proceedings of the European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2017, Vienna (Austria), 23.-28.04.2017.
  • Pereira, S., Parreira, C., Santos, E., Costa, L., Verdelho Vieira, V., Jorde, F., Leya, T., Kryvenda, A. & Friedl, T. (2016): Cultivation temperature influence on growth rate and fatty acid profile of PUFA producing microalgae strains. AlgaeEurope, Madrid (Spain).
  • Leya, T. (2016): Fraunhofer-Algen zurück von der ISS. Fraunhofer Institut für Immunologie und Zelltherapie, Institutsteil Bioanalytik und Bioprozesse (IZI-BB), Potsdam.
  • de Vera, J.-P., Baqué, M., Lorek, A., Wolter, D., Böttger, U., Hanke, F., Hübers, H.-W., de la Torre Noetzel, R., Sánchez, F.J., Sancho, L.G., Billi, D., Verseux, C., Rettberg, P., Rabbow, E., Panitz, C., Reitz, G.n., Berger, T., Möller, R., Bohmeier, M., Leuko, S., Horneck, G., Westall, F., Jänchen, J., Herzog, T., Fritz, J.r., Meyer, C., Onofri, S., Selbmann, L., Zucconi, L., Pacelli, C., Kozyrovska, N., Leya, T., Foing, B., Demets, R., Cockell, C.S., Olsson-Francis, K., Wagner, D., Edwards, H.G.M., Joshi, J., Huwe, B.r., Grossniklaus, U., Rövekamp, M., Pascale, E., Elsaesser, A., Schulze-Makuch, D., Feyh, N., Kliefoth, M., Szewzyk, U., Lasch, P., Lee, N., Ott, S., Backhaus, T., Kruchten, M. & Meessen, J. (2016): BIOMEX – past, present and future activities of an ISS-experiment. 16th EANA Astrobiology Conference, Athens (Greece).
  • Wagner, D., de Vera, J.-P., Joshi, J., Leya, T. & Schulze-Makuch, D. (2015): Astrobiologie - dem Leben im Universum auf der Spur. System Erde 5(1): 40-47
  • Kryvenda, A., Stehr, M., Leya, T., Olberg, B. & Friedl, T. (2015): The European PUFAChain project (FP7) - a value chain from algal biomass to lipid-based products. - Eur. J. Phycol. 50(sup1): 40.
  • Godino, N., Jorde, F., Lawlor, D., Jaeger, M. & Duschl, C. (2015): Purification of microalgae from bacterial contamination using a disposable inertia-based microfluidic device. - J. Micromech. Microeng. 25(8): 084002.
  • de Vera J-P, Boettger U, Lorek A, Wolter D, Grunow D, Hübers H-W, Spohn T, Noetzel RdlT, Sánchez FJ, Billi D, Baqué M, Rettberg P, Rabbow E, Reitz G, Berger T, Leuko S, Möller R, Bohmeier M, Horneck G, Westall F, Jänchen J, Fritz J, Meyer C, Onofri S, Selbmann L, Zucconi L, Kozyrovska N, Leya T, Foing B, Demets R, Cockell CS, Bryce C, Philips Brown S, Olsson-Francis K, Wagner D, Serrano P, Edwards HGM, Joshi J, Huwe B, Moritz S, Ehrenfreund P, Elsaesser A, Ott S, Meessen J, Feyh N, Szewzyk U, Schulze-Makuch D, Hermelink A, Lasch P. BIOMEX – the Biology and Mars Experiment in space during the EXPOSE-R2 mission on the ISS. GRA. 2014;16.
  • Leya T. Snow Algae: Adaptation strategies to survive on snow and ice. In: Seckbach, J., Oren, A. & Stan-Lotter, H. (eds.): Polyextremophiles, Vol. 27 (2013): S. 401-423, Springer Netherlands. DOI dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-6488-0_17.
  • Remias D, Wastian H, Lütz C, Leya T. (2013): Insights into the biology and phylogeny of Chloromonas polyptera (Chlorophyta), an alga causing orange snow in Maritime Antarctica. Antarct. Sci. 25 (2013), 5: S. 648-656. DOI dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0954102013000060.
  • de Vera J-P, Boettger U, Noetzel RdlT, Sánchez, FJ, Grunow D, Schmitz N, Lange C, Hübers H-W, Billi D, Baqué M, Rettberg P, Rabbow E, Reitz G, Berger T, Möller R, Bohmeier M, Horneck G, Westall F, Jänchen J, Fritz J, Meyer C, Onofri S, Selbmann L, Zucconi L, Kozyrovska N, Leya T, Foing B, Demets R, Cockell CS, Bryce C, Wagner D, Serrano P, Edwards HGM, Joshi J, Huwe B, Ehrenfreund P, Elsaesser A, Ott S, Meessen J, Feyh N, Szewzyk U, Jaumann R, Spohn T. Supporting Mars exploration: BIOMEX in Low Earth Orbit and further astrobiological studies on the Moon using Raman and PanCam technology. Planetary and Space Science 74 (2012), 1: S. 103-110.
  • Remias D, Aigner S, Leya T, Lütz C, Stuppner H, Schwaiger S. Characterization of an UV- and VIS-absorbing, purpurogallin-derived secondary pigment new to algae and highly abundant in Mesotaenium berggrenii (Zygnematophyceae, Chlorophyta), an extremophyte living on glaciers. FEMS Microbiol. Ecol. 79 (2012), 3: S. 638-648. DOI dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1574-6941.2011.01245.x.
  • Spijkerman E, Wacker A, Weithoff G, Leya T. Elemental and fatty acid composition of snow algae in Arctic habitats. Frontiers in Microbiology 3 (2012): S. 380. DOI dx.doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2012.00380.
  • Remias D, Karsten U, Lütz C, Leya T. Physiological and morphological processes in the Alpine snow alga Chloromonas nivalis (Chlorophyceae) during cyst formation. Protoplasma 243 (2010), 1: S. 73-86. DOI dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00709-010-0123-y.
  • Leya T, Rahn A, Lütz C, Remias D. Response of arctic snow and permafrost algae to high light and nitrogen stress by changes in pigment composition and applied aspects for biotechnology. FEMS Microbiol. Ecol. 67 (2008), 3: S. 432-443. DOI dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1574-6941.2008.00641.x.
  • Reichle C, Schnelle T, Müller T, Leya T, Fuhr G. A new microsystem for automated electrorotation measurements using laser tweezers. Biochim. Biophys. Acta 1459 (2000): S. 218-229.
  • de Nys R, Leya T, Maximilien R, Afsar A, Nair PSR, Steinberg PD. The need for standardised broad scale bioassay testing: a case study using the red alga Laurencia rigida. Biofouling 10 (1996), 1-3: S. 213-224. DOI dx.doi.org/10.1080/08927019609386281.