Tag Archives: seaweed

Dump the plastic: Scientists create edible food packaging films from seaweed

Ever been so hungry that you could hardly wait until the packaging was removed from your food? Don’t worry, this will soon be something of the past.

Researchers and companies have been working for a while now on edible, cost-effective food films as a way to tackle food waste and plastic pollution. Now, an international team has taken it a step forward, creating a film based on sodium alginate – a well-known naturally occurring seaweed biopolymer.

Rammohan Aluru and Grigoriy Zyryanov, part of the team that developed edible food films based on seaweed (stripped off solution of ferulic acid and sodium alginate in a Petri dish). Image credit: UrFu

Sodium alginate is a carbohydrate that can be used to form packaging fils, says Rammohan Aluru, a co-author of the paper describing the material, in a statement. It’s also stable enough to serve as packaging.

Alginates are refined from different species of brown seaweeds such as the giant kelp Macrocystis pyrifera and Ascophyllum nodosum. They are currently used in many industries such as food, fertilizers, textile printing, and pharmaceuticals. Even dental impression material uses alginate as its means of gelling.

The film, created with natural ingredients, is safe for health and the environment, is water-soluble, and can dissolve by almost 90% in 24 hours. The researchers crossed-linked the alginate molecules with linked with a natural antioxidant ferulic acid, making the film strong, homogeneous, rigid, and capable of prolonging the life of the products.

Grigory Zyryanov, professor at Ural Federal University and co-author of the paper, said the film keeps food fresh for a longer time thanks to its antioxidant components that slow down the oxidation processes. Plus, natural antiviral agents obtained from garlic, turmeric, and ginger can be added to the film to prevent the spread of viruses and extend the shelf life of food, thus granting it anti-pathogen properties while maintaining its all-natural appeal.

The researchers said the film could be produced without any special requirements, making it accessible by food producers and film manufacturers. They could even be produced at a polymer production plant, Zyryanov argued. And if there’s an ocean nearby, it would be even simpler for any industrial manufacturer to create the films at low cost.

The new film is part of a much larger trend of innovating research being done on edible bio-films or coating materials – with a key role in food preservation, manufacturing, and extending the shelf-life of food materials. They are eco-friendly, easily degradable, and don’t cause health issues even if you forgott to remove them. But most importantly, they would help rid us of our dependence on plastic: a whopping 40% of the plastic we produced is used for packaging.

Expanding the use of bio-films and coating materials would help address food waste, a growing problem. The UN estimates that around one-third of the world’s food is lost or wasted every year. While harvest and retail are usually the main problems, a significant amount of food is also wasted at purchase and consumption. Plus, the food films would help tackle plastic pollution, which grows every year.

Several startups have been working with them for a while now. Evoware is looking at using seaweed to create a plastic-like packaging that can be safely eaten, while Loliware has created edible cups out of seaweed and has now branched to straws. Skipping Rocks Lab is also working to replace the plastic water bottle with a seaweed alternative.

The study was published in the Journal of Food Engineering.

Seaweed highlighted as key player to tackle global warming

The role played by seaweed to mitigate greenhouse gasses might be more significant than initially thought, according to new research which discovered seaweed can travel far from its initial location and deep beyond coastal areas.

Seaweed does a lot more work than we give it credit for. Credit: Flickr

Seaweed constitutes the most extensive and productive vegetated coastal habitats. They colonize all latitudes and are efficient at capturing atmospheric CO2 and converting it into plant material, playing a key role to avoid a more significant global warming.

In a paper published in Nature Geoscience, a group of researchers discovered that macroalgae species can drift as much as 5000 kilometers beyond coastal areas. Around 70% of this is seaweed, therefore carbon will sink to ocean depths below 1000 meters — which means the carbon is unlikely to return to the atmosphere anytime soon.

“This finding has huge implications for how the global carbon dioxide budget is calculated,” said Ph.D. student, Alejandra Ortega, the first author of the study. “It indicates that macroalgae are important for carbon sequestration and should be included in assessments of carbon accumulated in the ocean, known as blue carbon.”

Seaweed doesn’t remain in the same place. It drifts with currents and tides, but we don’t really know much about its fate once it floats away from the coast. As a result, there have been no detailed assessments of their role in carbon sequestration in coastal habitats, particularly in the sediments of seagrass and mangroves.

The research team led by Carlos Duarte and his KAUST colleagues at the Red Sea Research Center and the Computational Bioscience Research Center (CBRC), has identified DNA sequences of macroalgae in hundreds of metagenomes generated by global ocean expeditions.

In the expeditions, the global ocean was surveyed to a depth of 4000 meters, then sequencing the particulate material collected in the water sample to create a global DNA resource.

Duarte and his team of marine scientists searched for macroalgae in these global ocean metagenomes, using Dragon Metagenomic Analysis Platform (DMAP). Developed by CBRC bioinformaticians, DMAP uses KAUST’s supercomputer to annotate and compare metagenomic data sets.

For the very first time, the team was able to provide semiquantitative evidence of the presence of macroalgae beyond the shoreline. It’s yet another puzzle piece that will enable us to better understand our planet’s climate — but there’s still much work to be done.

“Work is still needed to be able to translate a specific amount of DNA into a specific amount of organic carbon in a specific taxon, but finding macroalgal DNA is the first step,” said Ortega.

Belize Sargassum.

Satellite imaging used to spot the largest seaweed bloom in the world

Researchers at the USF College of Marine Science report discovering the largest bloom of macroalgae in the world — the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt (GASB).

Belize Sargassum.

Sargassum on a beach in Belize.
Image via Pixabay.

Based on computer simulations, the team reports that the GASB’s shape has formed in response to ocean currents. This brown macroalgae belt blankets the surface of the tropical Atlantic Ocean from the west coast of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico, and formed last year as 20 million tons of algae floated in surface waters and wreaked havoc on shorelines around the tropical Atlantic, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and the east coast of Florida.

All the algae

The seaweed, the team reports, grows seasonally in response to two nutrient inputs, one natural and one human-derived. The Amazon River’s spring and summer discharge floods the ocean with fresh nutrients; this discharge may have increased in recent years due to deforestation and fertilizer use in the area. In the winter, upwelling off the West African coast delivers nutrients from deep waters to the ocean surface where the Sargassum grows.

“The evidence for nutrient enrichment is preliminary and based on limited field data and other environmental data, and we need more research to confirm this hypothesis,” said Dr. Chuanmin Hu of the USF College of Marine Science, who led the study and has studied Sargassum using satellites since 2006.

“On the other hand, based on the last 20 years of data, I can say that the belt is very likely to be a new normal,” said Hu.

Hu’s team used data from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) between 2000-2018. They also analyzed fertilizer consumption patterns in Brazil, Amazon deforestation rates, Amazon River discharge, and two years of nitrogen and phosphorus measurements taken from the central western parts of the Atlantic Ocean (among other ocean properties) to see whether they linked with the blooms.

Bloom evolution.

Image credits Mengqiu Wang, Chuanmin Hu / USF College of Marine Science

Based on the data, they report a possible shift in the pattern of these blooms since 2011. Before this point, most of the pelagic Sargassum in the ocean was clumped up around the Gulf of Mexico and the Sargasso Sea (on the western edge of the central Atlantic Ocean). After 2011, Sargassum populations made big appearances in places the algae hadn’t been encountered before, such as the central Atlantic, growing in massive blobs that suffocated local life along the shoreline and entangled shipping. Some countries, such as Barbados, declared a national emergency because of the toll this once-healthy seaweed took on tourism.

“The ocean’s chemistry must have changed in order for the blooms to get so out of hand,” Hu said.

Sargassum reproduces vegetatively (i.e. from a parent plant or fragments), and the team believes there are several ‘initiation zones’ from which it propagates into the wider Atlantic. They also explain that the plant grows faster when environmental conditions are favorable. The results, while preliminary, do show a strong correlation between the recent boom in Sargassum and increases in deforestation and fertilizer use since 2010.

Key factors for bloom formation, the team found, are:

  • A large seed population in the winter left over from a previous bloom.
  • Nutrient input from West Africa upwelling in winter.
  • Nutrient input in the spring or summer from the Amazon River.
  • In addition, Sargassum only grows well when salinity is normal and surface temperatures are normal or cooler.

The bloom in 2011 was caused by rich Amazon discharge from previous years compounding with upwelling in the eastern Atlantic and river discharge on the western Atlantic. Major blooms occurred yearly after this, with the exception of 2013, as all the ingredients on the list were present. No bloom occurred in 2013 because the seed populations measured during winter of 2012 were unusually low, said first author Dr. Mengqiu Wang. The first large bloom didn’t occur in 2010 because heavy rains in 2009 reduced the overall salinity in the Amazon discharge area and because surface temperatures were higher than usual.

“This is all ultimately related to climate change because it affects precipitation and ocean circulation and even human activities, but what we’ve shown is that these blooms do not occur because of increased water temperature,” Hu said.

“They are probably here to stay.”

The team reports that what we’ll likely see in the future is a recurring pattern of Sargassum blooming in late January to early April, which will develop into a Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt up through to July. After this, the bloom will increasingly dissipate until winter.

“We hope this provides a framework for improved understanding and response to this emerging phenomenon,” Hu said. “We need a lot more follow-on work.”

The team, however, cautions that predicting future blooms and their evolution is tricky because they depend on a large palette of factors that are hard to predict.

The paper “The great Atlantic Sargassum belt” has been published in Science.

Science delivers: new seaweed tastes like bacon, healthier than kale

Seaweed can nowadays be used as fuel and as oddly-green-but-awesome streetlamps that also scrub the air of CO2. Is there anything that it can’t do? I’m willing to bet good money (i’m a writer, “good” here is used loosely to mean a few pieces of change and an empty bubble-gum wrapper) that it won’t ever taste as good as say…Bacon.

“There hasn’t been a lot of interest in using it in a fresh form. But this stuff is pretty amazing,” said chief researcher Chris Langdon. “When you fry it, which I have done, it tastes like bacon, not seaweed. And it’s a pretty strong bacon flavor.”

“…a pretty strong bacon flavour”, has science gone too far? Or not far enough?
Image via cbsnews

Vegans everywhere rejoice, as researchers from Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center say they’ve created and patented a new type of seaweed that has the potential to be sold commercially as the next big superfood.

The unexpectedly delicious new creation is actually a new strain of red marine algae named dulse. It’s packed full of minerals and proteins, it’s low in calories, and it looks a bit like red lettuce. The team claims it’s better for you than kale:

“Dulse is a superfood, with twice the nutritional value of kale,” said Chuck Toombs, a faculty member in OSU’s College of Business and a member of the team working to develop the product into a foodstuff. “And OSU had developed this variety that can be farmed, with the potential for a new industry for Oregon.”

Dulse normally grows in the wild along the Pacific and Atlantic coastlines and is harvested, dried and sold as a cooking ingredient or nutritional supplement. The team began researching ways of farming the new strain of dulse to feed abalone, but they quickly realized its potential to do well on our plate after chief researcher Chris Langdon fried some of his reaseach material of the seaweed and ate it.

They’ve received a grant from the Oregon Department of Agriculture to explore dulse as a “special crop” and are working with the university’s Food Innovation Center in Portland and several chefs to find out ways dulse could be used as a main ingredient.

Though there is currently no commercial operation that grows dulse for human consumption in the U.S., the team is confident the seaweed superfood could make it big. Not only can you steer your health in the right direction by including it in your meals, but it tastes like one of America’s favorite foods.

So if you’re yearning for some healthy underwater bacon with all the flavour but none of the problems, an adventurer curious to try new foods, vegan yourself or cooking for that special vegan someone you hold dear, get your hands on some dulse and enjoy!

Check out some photos of the new pork-free bacon:

Looks bacon-y even when raw!
Image via wisegeek

And even bacon-yer when cooked!
Image via: mirror.co.uk

Dulse-Sunflower bread. Bacon flavoured bread for your BACON SANDWITCHES yes please.
Image via meghantelpner.com

Image via livet.tv


Seagrass on ocean coasts can store twice as much carbon as tropical rainforests, yet face destruction

A new research from a team of international marine geoscientists has found that seagrass meadows, found in coastal regions, can store up to twice as much carbon as temperate or tropical forests. The scientists involved in the study, thus, believe that seagrasses can potentially become a viable solution to climate change, if scaled and preserved through out the world.


Dense seagrass meadows in Florida's Coastal Everglades LTER site.(c) Florida Coastal Everglades LTER Site

Data suggests that coastal seagrass beds store up to 83,000 metric tons of carbon per square kilometer, mostly in the soils beneath them. Some seagrass beds have been found to store carbon for thousands of years in the roots and soil beneath them. Actually, seagrass beds store 90% of their carbon in the soil–and continue to build on it for centuries.

The research also estimates that, although seagrass meadows occupy less than 0.2 percent of the world’s oceans, they are responsible for more than 10 percent of all carbon buried annually in the sea.

“Seagrasses only take up a small percentage of global coastal area, but this assessment shows that they’re a dynamic ecosystem for carbon transformation,” said James Fourqurean, the lead author of the paper and a scientist at Florida International University and the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site.

Despite this, however, seagrass meadows are among the world’s most threatened ecosystems. Currently, some 29% of the world’s historic sea grass meadows have been destroyed, preponderantly caused by water pollution and dredging. It’s estimated some 1.5% of the world’s seagrass meadows are lost every year.

The current study explicitly shows how important, really, are seagrass ecosystems to the Earth’s climate and why preservation and rehabilitation efforts are required. Destruction of seagrass meadows can potentially emit up to 25 percent as much carbon as those from terrestrial deforestation, the researchers claim in the study recently published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

“One remarkable thing about seagrass meadows is that, if restored, they can effectively and rapidly sequester carbon and reestablish lost carbon sinks,” said paper co-author Karen McGlathery, a scientist at the University of Virginia and NSF’s Virginia Coast Reserve LTER site.

Besides storing carbon, seagrass beds are beneficial to the ecosystem also by filtering sediment from the oceans; protecting coastlines against floods and storms; and serving as habitats for fish and other marine life.

The research was led by Fourqurean in partnership with scientists at the Spanish High Council for Scientific Investigation, the Oceans Institute at the University of Western Australia, Bangor University in the United Kingdom, the University of Southern Denmark, the Hellenic Center for Marine Research in Greece, Aarhus University in Denmark and the University of Virginia.

source: physorg

Seaweed farmer Nyafu Juma Uledi tends her crop in a tidal pool on Zanzibar Island in Tanzania, which exports thousands of tons of the greenery to Asia annually. (Photo: Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters)

Genetically engineered microbe turns seaweed into biofuel

US-based scientists have successfully managed to engineer a microbe that reacts with seaweed to produce ethanol, and thus making it a new source of biofuel, an alternative to coal and oil. If the research can be applied at an economically feasible scale, it could finally set biofuels usage on an exponentially growth path, as seaweed doesn’t compete with food crops for arable land.

Most of today’s biofuels are extracted from crops like corn, sugar or oil palms, which are turned into ethanol. However, to reach today’s production mark of tens of billions of gallons worth of biofuel the industry had to use an immense amount of arable land, which directly interferes with actual food production and provides interest for companies to deforest rain forests and wood lands to make way for more crop land. Also, a entire arsenal of chemical fertilizers are used in the crop cultivation process. The last point has lead many climate experts to state that biofuels aren’t that green at all.

Since seaweed doesn’t compete with arable land, turning it into a biofuel energy source is an extremely interesting prospect, and scientists at Bio Architecture Lab, Inc., (BAL) have managed to accomplish just that. The Berkley, Ca. researchers used a genetically engineered form of E. coli bacteria that can digest the seaweed’s sugars into ethanol. They were inspired by the Vibrio splendidus bacteria, which brakes down alginate, the predominant sugar molecule in the brown seaweed. They then took the genetic machinery responsible for this process and split it into the E. coli. The scientists involved in the research claim that the engineered microbe gives 80% of the theoretical maximum yield, converting 28% of the dry weight of the seaweed into ethanol.

“Natural seaweed species grow very fast – 10 times faster than normal plants – and are full of sugars, but it has been very difficult to make ethanol by conventional fermentation,” said Yannick Lerat, scientific director at Centre d’Etude et de Valorisation des Algues. “So the new work is a really critical step. But scaling up processes using engineered microbes is not always easy. They also need to prove the economics work.”

Man has been harvesting seaweed for centuries as a food source. In China and Japan, there are farms that are the equivalent of the midwest cornfields in the US. It is believed that around 15 million metric tons of kombu and other seaweeds are grown and harvested as a food source. So the basis and mechanics for a biofuel centered farms is more or less already in place, but a lot of investment and work needs to be put in order to make seaweed produced biofuels economically feasible.

BAL currently has four aquafarming sites in Chile where it hopes to “scale up its microbe technology as the next step on the path to commercialization” in the next three years. A Carbon Trust official said seaweed biofuels are “still five times higher than they need to be to get to a reasonable fuel price” and that “the use of genetically modified microbes could be a concern in Europe – where the perception of negative impacts can be quite harmful – but less so in the US and elsewhere.”

Still, there’s a huge potential, considering most of the planet is covered in water. Also, the researchers claim that the microbe can used for making molecules other than ethanol, like plastics or sobutanol.

“Consider the microbe as the chassis with engineered functional modules,” or pathways to produce a specific molecule, synthetic biologist Yasuo Yoshikuni, a co-founder of BAL says. “If we integrate other pathways instead of the ethanol pathway, this microbe can be a platform for converting sugar into a variety of molecules.”