Oceans of potential for our food
Published 04/12/2013 | 02:30
Exciting research that aims to marry the mind-boosting properties of algae with infant milk powder and develop new premium niches for grass-fed beef are among the slew of new research projects that are kicking off around the country's main research centres this week.
Moorepark's Prof Catherine Stanton is leading a 10-strong team of researchers to look at how the mental benefits of microscopic algae can be harvested and combined with some of our most important dairy products.
Research has already proven that lower levels of Omega 3 fatty acids are linked with a higher incidence of depression.
Fish oil is the best known source of Omega 3, but the Teagasc researcher said that there was a real requirement for a different source of these health enhancing oils.
"The reality is that people don't eat enough fish," said Prof Stanton. "Even if they did, it may not be the most sustainable source of these oils if fish stocks are depleting."
The researchers also believe that these polyunsaturated fatty acids would have a wider use if they were sourced from algae.
"There could be huge demand for this type of ingredient in things like infant formula.
"But if there was a risk that it might contain traces of heavy metals that could, in theory, come from fish oils then it would be off the menu," said Prof Stanton.
Instead, she envisages large land-based water tanks where the microscopic algae could be propagated in a controlled environment where all contamination risks could be eliminated.
The microscopic algae, which are largely invisible to the naked eye, are preferred over macro-algae such as seaweed because they contain higher levels of the target fats.
However, Prof Stanton's counterparts are looking at alternative uses for macro-algae, along with other waste products from the fish processing sector.
Dr Dick FitzGerald of UL believes that seaweed, salmon skins and the huge amounts of blue whiting and boarfish that are going to be landed when the EU's fish discards rules change next year offer huge potential as cheap sources of proteins that could help in the battle against diabetes and obesity.
"There are estimates that up to 100,000t of additional fish will be landed here from 2014," said Dr FitzGerald.
His three-year programme looks into the possibility of using these protein fragments, or peptides, as bio-markers to help diabetes sufferers manage their blood sugar levels better. In addition, Dr FitzGerald is investigating the ability of these peptides to act as satiety enhancements, a feature that could play a big part in the battle against obesity.