A study conducted by Tel Aviv University (TAU) and the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute has succeeded in dramatically increasing the health and medicinal value of seaweed so that it can be used in the superfood, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic industries of the future.
The scientists said that this new advanced technology promotes an environmentally-friendly approach of “sustainable integrated aquaculture” in which the seaweed purifies the water and maintains the ecological balance.
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Sure, when we think of Israel we think of Startup Nation with all of its new high-tech firms. But Israel is also known for all manner of scientific breakthroughs coming from its scientific community that leads the world. Some of these breakthroughs are medical, as in cancer research. And others might be usable in high-tech. But many also just show us new ways to get the most out of nature.
And sea life has a lot to offer humanity. For example, in January scientists from the Ben-Gurion University (BGU) in the Negev revealed that they found that red algae can be used to find ways of dealing with anti-biotic resistant strains of bacteria. The research from BGU is so important. because if bacteria and other forms of disease can no longer be defeated with traditional treatments and medications, then new ones need to be developed.
As for the new TAU study, it focused on enhancing the production of bio-active compounds that offer medical benefits to humans, such as antioxidants, the concentration of which in the seaweed was doubled; natural sunscreens concentrations tripled; and unique protective pigments of great medical value that were stimulated substantially by ten-fold.
According to the researchers, these findings may serve the pharmaceutical, cosmetics, food, and nutritional supplement industries. The study was carried out with the innovative and sustainable approach of integrated aquaculture, which combines seaweed with fish cultivation. This method benefits the seaweed while at the same time helping to purify the seawater and minimizing negative environmental Impacts.
The new development was led by Ph.D. student Doron Ashkenazi of Tel Aviv University and the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute, under the guidance of Prof. Avigdor Abelson of Tel Aviv University’s School of Zoology and Prof. Alvaro Israel of the IOLR in Haifa, in collaboration with other leading researchers from Israel and around the world, including Guy Paz from IOLR; organic chemistry expert Dr. Shoshana Ben-Valid; Dr. Eitan Salomon from the National Center for Mariculture in Eilat; and Prof. Félix López Figueroa, Julia Vega, Nathalie Korbee, and Marta García-Sánchez from Malaga University in Spain. The article was published in the scientific journal Marine Drugs, thanks to the study’s groundbreaking findings in the field of marine derived health and medicinal compounds.
Using their cultivation approach, the researchers believe that in the future it will be possible to elevate in seaweed additional natural materials with important medical properties, such as anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and ant-biotic substances.
Furthermore, the current methodology has the potential to be applied in the seaweed global aquaculture industry, and can help promote the State of Israel as a leading power in seaweed biotechnology.
The researchers also emphasize that seaweed aquaculture is environmentally-friendly, preserving the ecological balance, and furthermore, reduces environmental risks by minimizing excessive amounts of anthropogenic nutrients and other pollutants, reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, and lowering the carbon footprint. In this way, seaweed aquaculture can help cope with global environmental challenges such as pollution, habitat loss, and the climate crisis. Doron Ashkenazi concludes: “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.”