Throughout its history Gracilarias de Panama has worked mainly with red algae of the genuses Gracilaria, Eucheuma and Kappaphycus.
The presence of various species of Gracilarias Sp. and Eucheuma has been recorded in Panama. Both of these algae come from the division of red algae known as Rhodophyta. The Eucheuma variety was distinguished as a genus and named by J. Agardh (1847). The Kappaphycus species comes from Eucheuma.
The cultivation of the species Kappaphycus alvarezii accompanied by Kappaphycus striatum and Eucheuma denticulatum was first reported in 1990 (Glenn & Doty, 1990). Since then articles on the cultivation of this species have been replacing those on the genus Eucheuma (Batista, 2009).
Marine algae use sunlight to develop photosynthesis, converting it into various types of energy. And from sea water they obtain the nutrients necessary for their development and the generation of different types of energy through photosynthesis. These crops require no chemical or organic fertilizers. Environmental parameters such as sea water temperature both on the surface and beneath it, salinity, pH and the direction and speed of the sea currents are factors that determine the establishment of the algae, given that these are directly related to the growth and quality of the carrageenans obtained (Trespoey, A et al, 2007). These circumstances imprint the properties of the carrageenan in order for it to be of use to industry. In short, to plan any cultivation of marine algae one has to invest in selecting the perfect locations to ensure the successful production of colloids (Batista de Vega, 2009).
The cultivation of marine algae is useful because of their production of phycocolloids, which have a great many industrial uses (food, medicine, cosmetics and new energies). These phycocolloids are the gel-type solutions extracted from marine algae and are known as agar, carrageenan and alginate. They are cell-wall components of the algae and serve as protection and support.
Carrageenan is mainly extracted from Eucheuma and Kappaphycus, while agar comes from Gracilaria.
The marine macroalgae grown by Gracilarias de Panama in Colon contain the three main types of carrageenan: kappa, iota and lambda. These are raw materials that are essential for manufacturing many products used on a massive scale and are therefore of commercial interest. They have a number of different applications in the food industry and medicine and play a role in new energy sources. In this respect, apart from the use of carrageenan in the food industry because of its gelling and moisture retaining properties, an important future for them lies in the field of biomedicine. Carrageenan has been shown to have important properties as an anticoagulant, an anticholesterolemic and as a barrier against certain viruses. As well as being rich in omega-3 fatty acids, whose importance to health are well known, they are also rich in phytosterols (fucosterols), which are able to decrease the total cholesterol present in blood, and high-density lipoproteins (HDL), which can remove cholesterol from the arteries.
The species of the Gracilaria genus is one of the most important red algae for international trade because of the components extracted from it, the most noteworthy of which is agar. Also known as agar-agar, this is a plant gelatin of marine origin formed by linear polysaccharides obtained from the cell wall of various types of algae including the Euchema and Gracilaria genuses, which are grown by Gracilarias de Panama.
In biomedicine, agar is used for selecting Gram-negative bacteria. Gels made of purified agarose are used for separating proteins greater than 200 kDa and fragments of DNA greater than 100 base pairs. It is also used as a stabilizer in certain foods and in the making of gelatins.
Industry buys the raw material in dry weight. Therefore it is in the interests of those growing the algae to maximize growth and thus the production of the biomass obtained. All this comes about through the selection of seeds (sown fragment of thallus) and the conditions of the sites where the crops are established. At the end of the cycle, it is the industry that sets the purchase price of the raw material. This price will depend on the constant quality of the raw material being optimized, and the obtaining of extracts of a predictable colloid purity and quantity, such as molecular weight, the kappa fraction and colloid performance in the case of carrageenan. Raw material with the best quality phycocolloids will attract a higher purchase price (Batista de Vega, 2009).