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Seaweed wonders medicine, makeup and more to discover

Versatile: Farmers harvest seaweed on Nusa Penida Island. Seaweed is useful for food, medicine and cosmetics. (JP/Duncan Graham)


Imagine a natural resource with proven health benefits, both inside and outside the body. It grows abundantly in the wild. It’s easily cultivated – though little understood.

Consider a commonplace raw material with great potential where Indonesia leads the world in exports — yet lags in knowledge.

Turning around this situation is the goal of Noer Khasanah and her colleagues in the Fisheries Department at Yogyakarta’s Gadjah Mada University (UGM).

With the help of a New Zealand aid program, they’re working to reveal the hidden curative powers and other qualities of seaweed.

“About 780 varieties have been identified though there could be more,” said Noer, who originally trained as a pharmacist. “However, only 56 are known to be commercially viable.”

She said the reeds — at least 450 types, which grow furthest from the shores are the most economically important.

“But until our research is complete we won’t know if there are others that could yield valuable compounds,” she says.

Indonesia, she says, is a mega-diverse country with huge potential.

“Who knows what we can find and the applications waiting to be uncovered?” Noer said.

“Most discoveries of the properties of seaweed have come from overseas. I’m not happy about that, particularly as we are such a major producer.”

Seaweed derivatives are already used in slimming pills — they work by tricking the body into thinking the stomach is full — and wound dressings.

They’re the source of iodine, which is found in a wide range of medicines and is vital for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland.

The applications do not stop with drugs. Seaweed is part of the diet in many cultures. It is also used in cosmetics and fertilizers.

However the major commercial application is in medicine — including anti-bacterial compounds — and food additives. The extract agar is a staple: If you ate jelly, sampled sushi or drank a soup today, the chances are that your snack included elements of seaweed.

Seaweed is already a useful earner. Four years ago, just three million tonnes were exported; this year the prediction is 10 million, making Indonesia the world’s top producer. Most of it goes to Europe.

If the quality is improved and further processing is undertaken then incomes could be even higher and jobs kept in the republic.

Red seaweed (the others are brown and green), has long been harvested in villages on Java’s south coast and islands in Nusa Tenggara.

Requirements include an accessible beach, few hazards like rocky outcrops and low wave movements — the opposite to a surfer’s dream.

British naturalist Alfred Wallace was among the first to research the archipelago’s seaweed — a misnomer because they’re really marine algae. That was in the 19th century. A few Dutch biologists added to the knowledge, but little has been done until now.

“We’re concentrating on NTT [East Nusa Tenggara] because it’s a poor and undeveloped area,” said the US-trained Noer. “It’s also part of the weed-rich Coral Triangle. [The base is Indonesia, the apex is the Philippines and the sides are Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.]”

Working in her laboratory with staff and students, and using a three-year New Zealand government grant paying Rp 600 million (US$52,504) a year, Noer’s team has started mapping the biodiversity, collecting seaweed from the south coast near Yogyakarta for laboratory analysis.

She’s also sharing the research with Kupang’s Nusa Cendana University and the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at University of Auckland.

At this stage Noer thinks the greatest promise lies in antioxidants for human health, and antibacterial agents in aquaculture.

In her submission for funds, she stressed the importance of seeking practical commercial outcomes that work in remote areas where low-tech rules.

Inventing a splendid process that relies on stable power, sterile workrooms and white-coated technicians may not be welcome on rugged islands overlooked by Jakarta’s resource allocators.

Although some species are toxic — “the deeper the weed, the more potent the poison” — seaweed has featured in Japanese and Korean food for centuries.

Above all, seaweed fits marvellously into the current global political agenda: It’s plentiful, organic and sustainable. It doesn’t always need to be harvested from the wild. When cultivated — and it’s a rapid grower — controls can be exercised. Some areas produce year round — others only during the wet season.

Although half the population might question the need for make-up, it’s hard to argue against harvesting a natural product that feeds and cures and even helps clean teeth.

Buyers usually want weed that’s been dried to below 38 percent of its original weight. Simple processes, like washing out salt and sand, keeping it free of contaminants like ropes and chicken droppings, and being more selective, can help improve products and prices.

(JP/Duncan Graham)


Weeding out the problems

The difficulties facing social engineers as they try to introduce new ways of working were obvious at the aptly named village of Sauna on the coast of Nusa Penida Island, Southeast of Bali.

In the shade of a giant sea almond on a coral beach, 18 women and girls, some of primary school age, slowly plucked seaweed shoots off a plastic rope.

Men brought them baskets of weed, harvested from an offshore nursery where they’d been planted a month earlier. The shoots were then carted further up the beach and sun dried on plastic sheets. If it starts raining, the weed must be covered quickly. All the procedures are labor intensive.

It takes about five kilos of wet weed to make one kilo of dried product.

The top quality weed fetches Rp 16,000 (US$ 1.40) a kilogram. Other weeds get less than half that price.

An earlier attempt by a community agency to cut-out the middle men and deal directly with exporters was countered by a sudden surge in prices that the agency couldn’t match. When they gave up, the price tumbled.

The people see no urgency to change. “If you want me to work harder I need more money,” said 60-year-old Suwarto.

The women had only vague ideas of why the weed was wanted overseas and the end product. “We just plant, grow, harvest and dry,” they said. “After that it’s not our business.”

via Seaweed wonders medicine, makeup and more to discover | The Jakarta Post.

Seaweed could be key to weight loss, study suggests

The scientists hope to start full clinical trials after tests with bread

Seaweed could be the secret ingredient to losing weight, research has suggested.

Scientists at Newcastle University said a compound found in common seaweed would stop the body absorbing fat.

Tests showed that alginate, found in sea kelp, can suppress the digestion of fat in the gut.

The findings, published in the journal Food Chemistry, showed that a four-fold increase in one type of alginate boosted anti-fat absorption by 75%.

Although not normally regarded as particularly appetising, the natural fibre found in kelp which stops the body absorbing fat could become more appealing to people trying to lose weight.

‘Extremely encouraging’

The scientists said tests on alginate extracted from the seaweed showed it could reduce the amount of fat the body absorbed.

They used it in bread during trials and found even a small amount reduced people’s fat intake by a third. Now they hope to start full clinical trials.

Lead scientist Prof Jeff Pearson, from Newcastle University’s Institute for Cell and Molecular Biosciences, said: “We have already added alginate to bread and initial taste tests have been extremely encouraging.

“Now the next step is to carry out clinical trials to find out how effective they are when eaten as part of a normal diet.”

Researchers investigated the ability of alginate to reduce fat break-down by a digestive enzyme, pancreatic lipase.

Blocking the action of the enzyme resulted in lower amounts of fat being absorbed by the body.

While they said this could help fight obesity, dieticians point out the best way to avoid absorbing too much fat is to cut the amount eaten in the first place.

via BBC News – Seaweed could be key to weight loss, study suggests.

Seaweed toothpaste ‘to stop tooth decay’

teeth showing plaque

The purple shows up the plaque on the half of the dentures that has not had the “seaweed” treatment

Adding enzymes from seaweed microbes to toothpaste and mouthwash could provide better protection against tooth decay, a team of UK scientists have said.

Researchers at Newcastle University had been studying Bacillus licheniformis to see if it could clean ships’ hulls.

But the scientists now believe it could protect the areas between teeth where plaque can gather despite brushing.

Their lab tests suggest the microbe’s enzyme cuts through plaque, stripping it of bacteria that cause tooth decay.

Dr Nick Jakubovics, of the university’s school of dental sciences, said: “Plaque on your teeth is made up of bacteria which join together to colonise an area in a bid to push out any potential competitors.

“Traditional toothpastes work by scrubbing off the plaque containing the bacteria – but that’s not always effective – which is why people who religiously clean their teeth can still develop cavities.

Decaying bacteria

“We found this enzyme can remove some of these undesirable bacteria from plaque.”

Plaque is made up of lots of different decaying bacteria.

When bacterial cells die, the DNA inside them leaks out and makes a biofilm that sticks to the teeth.

Instead of removing the plaque entirely, Dr Jakubovics believes the treatment could strip away the harmful bacteria, like Streptococcus mutans, that cause tooth decay.

“Ultimately we hope to harness this power into a paste, mouthwash or denture-cleaning solution.”

He said more studies are needed to show the technique works and is safe before any products could be brought to market.

He is presenting the latest findings to a meeting of the Society for Applied Microbiology, the organisation that is funding the research along with the Newcastle Healthcare Charity.


Seaweed bread helps dieters consume 180 fewer calories a day – the same as a half hour gym session

Filling: The seaweed was actually ground up and mixed with bread to make a filling toast for the study

Eating a slice of bread baked with ground-up seaweed could help you feel fuller for longer, researchers have found.

Men fed the speckled toast consumed 179 fewer calories on average than those given a slice of wholemeal – the same amount as you would burn during a half hour session on the treadmill.

The tests at Sheffield Hallam University were the first to involve adding the entire seaweed plant to the bread mix rather than breaking it down to extract various chemicals.

The bread – served with the crusts cut off – did not include any salt with the seaweed acting as a total replacement.

None of the men could tell the difference between an ordinary loaf and the slices seasoned with seaweed – which has a similar taste but far lower sodium levels.

As well as cutting salt intake, the seaweed also acted a bulking agent so the men felt fuller and less hungry.

So when the 12 men were presented with as many 400g bowls of pasta and tomato based sauce as they could eat for lunch some drew the line after a couple of bowls.

The seaweed was sourced from the Scottish Outer Hebrides. Dr Craig Rose from The Seaweed Foundation which supported the study, said: ‘It is not as salty as normal bread but you don’t notice any marine flavours and it is very acceptable.

‘It is just like eating normal bread. It rises just the same and looks just the same.

‘It has far more minerals than any land plant. It tastes minerally and works flavour wise.’

Half an hour on the treadmill burns around 180 calories - the amount saved by men who ate the seaweed toast
Half an hour on the treadmill burns around 180 calories – the amount saved by men who ate the seaweed toast


The test panel was split into two and given either egg on brown bread or enriched bread.

Researchers from Sheffield’s Centre for Food Innovation checked how much they ate and blood pressure levels. They found the men fed the seaweed bread consumed 179 less calories in a day, with 100 calories being significant for weight loss.

Dr Rose added: ‘This is the first time that this has looked at the using the whole seaweed as a food. All that has happened is it has been dried and milled.

‘Other works have looked at extracting chemical s from the seaweed and using them. So this study is very important in using whole seaweed to provide all the benefits. There is also on-going research showing it increases the shelf life of product.

‘The seaweed acts a bulking agent in the stomach giving a feeling of fullness. It has sodium in low levels but far less than salt.

‘It is also natural, sustainable, organic and adds nutrition. So unlike most bulking agents it is not just filling something out for the sake of cheapness.’

Lecturer in nutrition Anna Hall, who led the study, said: ‘I tried the bread and really like it. It does look a bit different to normal wholemeal.

‘The seaweed is fine granules so the bread looks a bit speckled but it tastes very nice.’

Previous research has looked at using seaweed as a salt substitute with pasta. As well as using it in bread the university is also investigating applying the principle to a range of meat products including sausages, Professor Hall said.

Read More: DailyMail

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