Queensland algae could be used to tackle obesity

[Australia] Queensland-grown algae is being touted as the next superfood to fight cardiovascular disease, cut obesity and tackle inflammatory disease.

Researchers from the University of Southern Queensland and James Cook University are working with MBD Energy to create an algae industry in regional Queensland.

The algae – a seaweed – is being grown in prawn and barramundi farms to remove nutrients from waste water that might otherwise flow onto the Great Barrier Reef, and also produces a valuable biomass.

Project leader Lindsay Brown said the aim of the research was to identify potential health products that could be made from the algae.

“The research has shown that algae is a functional food, that is a food that could reverse or prevent disease and deliver health benefits,” Professor Brown said.

Four seaweed products are being produced by MBD Energy, which show promise for human health and nutrition.

USQ researchers studying rats have found promising results with a soluable extract from a particular seaweed, ulva, to prevent and treat obesity.

“This is using a soluble product, called ulvans, extracted by James Cook University researchers from the edible green sea lettuce used to remove nutrients from effluent water that might otherwise flow onto the Great Barrier Reef,” Professor Brown said.

“USQ researchers are also about to start rat trials using the microalgae pigment astaxanthin.”

Natural astaxanthin from algae, which gives wild salmon and prawns their colour, is a powerful antioxidant that neutralises potentially-damaging free radicals.

The project will examine the metabolic and gut health benefits of the algae.

The research project is being backed by an Advance Queensland Innovation Partnerships program grant of almost $260,000.

Innovation Minister Leeanne Enoch said the project had the potential to deliver new jobs in regional Queensland.

“There are many positives about this project, including health benefits and an economic boost for regional areas, but one of the highlights of this research is that the seaweed has a double whammy of productive outcomes,” she said.

“There is potentially a huge benefit to people in Queensland, around Australia, and indeed the rest of the world, but also it has the potential to reduce the economic health burden on governments by tackling the obesitiy epidemic.”

MBD is in the final stages of commissioning a large $13 million natural algal astaxanthin facility near Ayr, which has created aobut 20 full time jobs.

Professor Brown said researchers were also looking at the pigment fucoxanthin – typically found in kelp – which was easy to grow and extract and contained omega-3 fatty acid EPA.

“Fucoxanthin has great potential to aid fat burning as well as antioxidant benefits, while the cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are well established,” he said.

“Researchers are now set to start rat trials on the freshwater macroalgae oedogonium, with advanced discussions beind held to establish the first large-scale facility at a regional Queensland water treatment plant to cost-effectively clean up effluent water.”

Professor Brown said once the effectiveness of oedogonium was proven, he expected the concept to spread throughout Australia and internationally.

The algae project is one of 23 to be funded through two rounds of the $16.7 million Advance Queensland innovation patrnership program.

 

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