By Jim Leffman via SWNS
A way of turning seaweed into 'super seaweed' by dramatically increasing its health and medicinal value has been discovered by scientists.
Researchers are hoping that the boosted seaweed can be used in the superfood, drug and cosmetic industries of the future.
Scientists from Tel Aviv University and the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute have managed to double the seaweed's antioxidants, triple the amount of natural sunscreen and boost unique protective pigments of great medical value ten-fold.
The advanced technology even promotes an environmentally-friendly approach of “sustainable integrated aquaculture” in which the seaweed purifies the water and maintains the ecological balance.
Published in the scientific journal Marine Drugs, the study claims to have made groundbreaking findings in the field of marine-derived health and medicinal compounds.
Author and doctoral student Doron Ashkenazi said: "Seaweed, also known as macroalgae, are marine plants that form the basis of the coastal marine ecosystem.
"The seaweed absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen into the environment.
"They purify the water, provide food, habitat and shelter for numerous species of fish and invertebrates.
"Not many are aware of it, however on top of all that, seaweed produce a wide variety of distinct bio-active compounds that are beneficial to humans.
"The seaweed living in the intertidal zone face extreme stress conditions, which include changes in salinity, temperature, desiccation conditions, changes in the availability of nutrients, and high exposure to solar radiation, especially in the ultraviolet (UV) range.
"Therefore, in order to survive, the seaweed have developed a unique set of chemical defense mechanisms, natural chemicals that help them cope with these harsh environments.
"One could say that seaweed are highly efficient natural factory for the production of valuable substances, that may offer significant benefits to humans.”
The team grew three local seaweed, Ulva, Gracilaria and Hypnea, alongside fish effluents, and subsequently exposed to various stress conditions, namely high irradiance, nutrient starvation, and high salinity.
They looked at how these changes affected the concentration of specific valuable biomaterials in the seaweed, with the aim of enhancing their production.
The results showed impressive increases in their concentrations so the team found a way of replicating the results minus the stressors.
Ashkenazi said: “We developed optimal cultivation conditions and invented a new and clean way to increase the levels of healthy natural bio-active compounds in seaweed to an unprecedented level.
“We in fact produced ‘super seaweed’ tailor designed to be utilised by the emerging health industries for food and health applications.”
They say the current methodology has the potential to be applied in the seaweed global aquaculture industry,
The researchers hope that in the future it will be possible to give seaweed additional natural materials with important medical properties, such as anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibiotic substances.
Pushing their green credentials the scientists say seaweed aquaculture is environmentally-friendly, minimizes excessive amounts of manmade nutrients and other pollutants as well as reduces greenhouse gases.
Ashkenazi added: “In the future, humanity will focus on creating science-based environmental solutions, such as the one we offer in the current study: technologies that promote recycling and the sound use of natural resources without overexploiting them.
"The study demonstrates, in a practical manner, how we can enjoy nature services without harming it.
"Just as the seaweed suggest, we can learn from nature how to preserve it, and thus live and prosper alongside it.”