Seaweed in your dinner?
The sea is habitat to half the different types of life found on earth, and is the largest remaining reservoir of bioactive compounds, which means they can have a health-promoting effect on living organisms, tissue or cells.
Research shows that seaweeds are rich in such compounds and, by virtue of their abundant availability in the marine ecosystem, they have the potential to become an excellent source of properties such as polysaccharides, omega-3 fatty acids, carotenoids, vitamins and minerals.
Traditionally, in the western world, seaweeds were not identified as a source of health-promoting ingredients, apart from iodine. Now, with increasing awareness of food as a source of functional health ingredients - components that provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition - there is a big interest in seaweed.
My research at UCD is concerned with finding better, and more efficient, ways of extracting bioactive compounds from seaweed. Bioactive compounds are sensitive to traditional extraction techniques, such as the use of heat, or solvents like alcohols, acids and alkalis. In addition, these techniques are time consuming and energy intensive, so it is necessary to identify and develop new processes.
So, researchers have been working towards development of novel techniques that are more efficient in terms of yield, time, cost and in addition are environmentally friendly.
Under the supervision of Prof. Colm O'Donnell (UCD) and Dr Brijesh Tiwari (Teagasc), I have developed and investigated a novel technology of high-power ultrasound to extract functional health ingredients like polysaccharides, polyphenols and proteins from brown seaweeds found in the west coast of Ireland.
The current focus of my research is on overcoming the challenges of employing this technology on a large scale so that the significant benefits to be obtained by improved extraction of bioactives from seaweed are exploited by industry.
Shekhar Kadam is a PhD student in the School of Biosystems Engineering, University College Dublin. He was awarded an Irish Research Council's Embark postgraduate research scholarship to pursue his studies in the area of development of novel extraction technology for seaweed bioactive compounds.