Martek Corp. said it received four small business innovation research grants, totaling more than $1 million, in September from the National Institutes of Health for development of new algal-based products for nutrition and for rational drug design.

The Columbia, Md., company cultures microalgae to produce biochemicals and substances for use in food, pharmaceuticals and aquaculture.

It was awarded a $437,000 Phase II SBIR grant for research on carbon 13 glycerol. "This is a molecule that is used as a carbon source for microbes. The purpose of it is to feed it to microbes so they make carbon 13-labeled products, for example a recombinant bacterium that would make a protein of pharmaceutical interest. That labeled protein could then be analyzed with NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) equipment and its structure found very quickly," Henry Linsert Jr., Martek's chairman and chief executive officer, told BioWorld.

Martek was also awarded a $500,000 Phase II grant to develop technology to produce labeled amino acids and nucleosides.

Martek also announced two $50,000 Phase I grants. One grant is for research to optimize production of beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, in a specified alga using fermentation technology.

The second Phase I grant is for modification of a specified alga's mode of growth using recombinant DNA techniques to cause it to obtain energy from glucose instead of light. The alga produces a high level of eicosapentienoic acid (EPA), a biologically active fatty acid that has beneficial cardiovascular effects for humans, the company said. If successful, the project would enable large-scale production of EPA.

-- Kris Herbst BioWorld Washington Bureau

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