Flinders reveals lucrative seaweed industry

andrew-lorbeerScientists from Flinders University are on the path to discovering new super chemicals in seaweed that could lead to a range of health benefits, from anti-wrinkle creams to obesity-fighting foods.

Led by Flinders Centre for Marine Bioproducts Development, researchers are extracting compounds from macro-algae that have never before been studied, in the hope of finding commercially viable products for functional foods, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

Seaweed is widely known for its medicinal properties, including treatments for cancer, immune dysfunction and coagulation, yet PhD candidate Andrew Lorbeer (pictured) said the newly extracted chemicals could produce even better health results.

“South Australia has the greatest biodiversity of seaweed in the world with more than 1200 species – 60 per cent of which are not found anywhere else in the world – and a single species can contain more than a dozen active compounds,” Mr Lorbeer said.

“Thousands of these compounds have never been researched so the probability that we have discovered new compounds with improved efficiency is quite high,” he said.

“Seaweed has been shown to have a range of applications in treating conditions such as cancer, inflammation and high cholesterol – and it can even be used for skin whitening and anti-ageing – so the work we’re doing here in the Centre is really exciting.”

Mr Lorbeer said the researchers were also screening for compounds with the potential to treat neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson’s disease, as well as using novel biotechnology techniques to improve the speed of extraction and make existing chemicals perform better.

He said the research, funded through industry partner Australian Kelp Products, highlighted the potential for a lucrative seaweed industry in South Australia.

“South Australia has an amazing natural resource not found anywhere else in the world and this research has the potential to lead to the development of a brand new industry in South Australia that can create jobs for rural South Australians.

“With all the incredible applications of seaweed, as well as new uses waiting to be uncovered, this area has huge potential for groundbreaking discoveries.”

Mr Lorbeer will present his research at the 8th Asia-Pacific Conference on Algal Biotechnology, which kicks off today at the Adelaide Convention Centre.

Hosted by Flinders University, the four-day event will showcase ideas and advancements in algal research, including new fuel sources, medicines, aquaculture and nutritional products, environmental management and remediation of polluted sites.

More than 300 delegates from 27 countries are expected to attend the conference, which features scientific forums, site tours and trade shows, as well as seminars by keynote speakers from the US, UK and Canada.

Coinciding with the 1st International Conference on Coastal Biotechnology from July 10-12, the event will also showcase Flinders breakthroughs in micro-algae cultivation, including a $4.2 million biorefinery project which has resulted in patentable technologies supporting fuel production, nutritional and medicinal products.

Conference convener Professor Wei Zhang, founding director of the Centre for Marine Bioproducts Development, said the conference would unite experts in the field to share ideas and provide a blueprint for the future.

“We are very excited to not only show our breakthroughs at Flinders University but hear from world leaders in the field,” Professor Zhang said.

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