Seaweeds are of huge interest in the food, pharmaceutical and agricultural industries due to their high nutritional content and the prevalence of useful bioactive compounds. Current extraction methods of macroalgal-derived metabolites are however problematic due to the complexity of the algal cell wall which hinders extraction efficiencies. The use of advanced extraction methods such as enzyme-assisted extraction (EAE), which involve the application of commercial algal cell wall degrading enzymes to hydrolyze the cell wall carbohydrate network, are becoming more popular as they allow the development of more efficient and eco-friendly processes. Ascophyllum nodosum samples were collected from the Irish coast and incubated in artificial seawater for six weeks at three different temperatures (18 °C, 25°C and 30 °C) to induce decay. Microbial communities associated with the intact and decaying macroalga were examined using Illumina Miseq sequencing and culture-dependent approaches, including the novel iChip device. The bacterial populations associated with the seaweed were observed to change markedly upon decay with a substantial decrease in the relative abundances of certain phyla including Planctomycetes and Verrucomicrobia observed during the decay period. Over 800 bacterial isolates cultured from the macroalga were screened for the production of algal cell wall polysaccharidases and a range of species from the phylum Bacteroidetes together with a number of Vibrio species which displayed multiple hydrolytic enzyme activities were identified. Extracts from these enzyme-active bacterial isolates were then used in EAE of phenolics from Fucus vesiculous and were shown to be equally efficient as commercial enzymes in their extraction efficiencies.

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