Weston Seeding Stronger Communities

Seeding Food Innovation

Awarded Project 2016

Production and transfer of essential fatty acids in the ocean

Project Description

Relevance to food innovation:

All organisms have an absolute requirement for certain long chain omega-3 fatty acids but most animals, including humans, cannot synthesize these essential fatty acids in sufficient amounts to meet their needs and must rely on their food to meet their requirements. Most essential fatty acids in Canadian diets are originally derived from marine phytoplankton and are then transferred up the food chain. However, we know very little about the concentrations and rates of production of these critical nutrients in the ocean. We also do not know how efficiently these nutrients are transferred throughout food webs. Without this knowledge, we are unable to address even the simplest of questions regarding essential fatty acid availability to humans: Are levels of oceanic EFA production and harvest sustainable?


To begin to answer this question, we will follow three distinct lines of research. In our first objective, we will measure production rates of two common species of phytoplankton under different growth conditions to capture the variation in fatty acid production throughout the year. Data from these experiments will be used to validate and further refine an existing algorithm that derives fatty acid production from satellite-derived ocean colour measurements. As a second objective, we will determine the efficiency with which fatty acids are transferred from phytoplankton to copepods, a crucial link in energy transfer between primary producers and planktonic fish. These experiments will provide the first measurements of trophic transfer efficiencies of essential fatty acids in the marine environment. In the third objective, we will combine our validated algorithms with remotely sensed ocean colour data to estimate essential fatty acid production by phytoplankton. We will then apply our trophic transfer efficiencies to those production estimates to make a simple EFA budget for the Northwest Atlantic.


Fisheries quotas and sustainable harvests are calculated only in terms of biomass production. Incorporation of essential fatty acids into models used to define those limits will allow managers to assess fisheries production relative to essential nutrients, a novel approach that will generate estimates that can be compared to estimated concentrations of essential fatty acids in fisheries removals. The approach we propose here can be extrapolated to other systems, allowing estimates of global oceanic essential fatty acid production. This has direct links to food security, both nationally and globally.


Dr. Suzanne Budge

Dr. Suzanne Budge

Dr. Suzanne Budge received her Ph.D. in Chemistry from Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, Newfoundland, in 1999. She then worked as a research associate for five years at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia and University of St. Andrews, Scotland. In 2004, she became a faculty member in the Department of Process Engineering and Applied Science at Dalhousie University. » More Info

Dr. Emmanuel Devred

Dr. Emmanuel Devred

Dr. E Devred holds a Ph.D. in satellite radiative transfer and remote sensing of ocean colour from the University of Littoral Cote d’Opale (France, 2001). Since 2001, Dr. E. Devred has carried out research on the development of algorithms to interpret changes in the color of the ocean has a function of phytoplankton, dissolved organic matter and suspended particle concentration as a postdoctoral fellow » More Info

Dr. Catherine Johnson

Dr. Catherine Johnson

Dr. Johnson has been a research scientist at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography since 2007. Her research focuses on biological and physical factors that control zooplankton distribution, abundance, community composition, and diversity, including the effects of climate variability on plankton populations and communities, interactions between zooplankton behavior and transport, and the role of dormancy » More Info