Projects/science - world/may 26, 2020

Can Chlorella algae be used as soil amendment to improve crop production?

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About This Project

Food insecurity is a severe global problem in both developed and developing nations. Soil degradation due to misuse of chemical fertilizer hampers adequate food production. The purpose of the proposed research is to determine if and how Chlorella vulgaris, a potential soil amendment, impacts growth, shelf life, and nutrition of crops. It is hypothesized that tomatoes and kale grown with the algae display improved growth, shelf life, and nutrient value compared to controls.

What is the context of this research?

One of my major interests is reduction of food insecurity. In a core class, I learned about how Chlorella, a group of freshwater algae, can impact growth and yields of strawberries. Some research teams have determined that Chlorella supplementation can help increase crop yields, growth rates, and germination rates. I hypothesize similar improvements for tomatoes and kale, but also plan to expand upon their research through determining if Chlorella vulgaris changes soil ecology, shelf life of produce, and nutrition and flavor characteristics.

What is the significance of this project?

Soils are being degraded worldwide due to improper use of chemical fertilizers, especially nitrogen and phosphorous, which also contaminates water supplies and threaten wildlife. Therefore, the discovery of soil amendments, such as Chlorella, to either prevent further degradation or maintain soil health is paramount; such soil amendments could drasticallyreduce the need for harmful chemical fertilizers. Worldwide, over one billion people lack access to sufficient amounts of healthy food, a condition known as food insecurity. Each year, more and more soil is lost from erosion due to destructive agricultural practices; Chlorella as a soil amendment could potentially help improve crop production and improve soil quality to prevent further global degradation.

What are the goals of the project?

Goals are to determine if and how Chlorella impacts growth of both warm (tomato) and cold weather (kale) plants. It will also be determined if the addition of Chlorella affects measures of taste and nutrition, such as sugar content, as well as shelf life. Growth will be measured by fruit (tomato) weight, leaf (kale) weight, stem length for both, and germination rates for both. Nutrient content will be assessed through chemical analysis. Shelf life will be measured by the presence of mold or other visible signs of rot. These two crops were chosen for two reasons: they are commonly consumed vegetables and one (tomato) is a warm-weather crop and the other (kale) is a cold-weather crop. Such diversity in seasons helps to minimize the risk of crop failure.

Distribution of money

The phospholipid-derived fatty acid (PLFA) tests comprise the majority of the budget, as each test cost approximately $60-$75 for over fifty replicates. They will help me determine how soil ecology changes with the addition of Chlorella, as they detect changes in substances that specifically occur in various microorganisms. Microorganisms, including fungi and bacteria, are major factors in the overall health of soil. All funds provided in support will be used to purchase critical supplies and material, including seeds, algal cultures, greenhouse supplies including flats, and soil. The funds will also cover the tests needed to determine community structure.


Starting in late spring of 2020, I will begin a series of experiments to find the amount of Chlorella I need for my research. In spring and summer 2020, I will complete experiments on tomatoes, and in fall and winter 2020, I will complete the experiments on kale. Data can then be analyzed and compared in 2021. I will continually provide updates on any delays in the proposed schedule.