If you've fed a baby formula in the last 10 years, it probably included microalgae -- or rather, an algae-based nutritional supplement. You may even be eating it yourself. Back in the 1980s, NASA began a program called the Closed Environment Life Support System. This project included researching the use of microalgae as a food supply during long-term space missions. After the NASA project ended, some of the scientists involved founded a company called Martek Biosciences to continue the research.
The microalgae researched by Martek, specifically a red variety called Crypthecodinium cohnii, is high in an omega-3 fatty acid called DHA (docosahexanoic acid). DHA is found in the brain, eyes and heart, and is essential for the development of these organs in babies as well as their function in adults. In 2001, Martek began manufacturing a nutritional supplement called Formulaid, which also included AHA (arachidonic acid), an essential omega-6 fatty acid derived from a fungus. Today, this supplement is included in nearly all baby formulas marketed in the United States, as well as those sold in more than 75 countries around the world [source: Space Technology Hall of Fame]. Algae-based DHA made by Martek has also been licensed for use in numerous other foods, including milk, yogurt, pasta sauce and bread.
In 2009, NASA and the Space Foundation inducted microalgae nutritional supplements into the Space Hall of Fame.