Seaweed has become a versatile resource that is used in various avenues, whether in cosmetics, foods, fertilizers, animal feeds, and even water treatment processes. Seaweed also has many benefits–high protein content, it controls blood sugar, supports thyroid function, and it’s high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. But now, seaweed has been bioengineered to increase its medical benefits. A team of researchers at Tel Aviv University and the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute (IOLR), have transformed how we look at seaweed through a newly found study. They were able to succeed in increasing seaweed’s ability to produce high healthy natural materials that can be used in the world of medicine. 

The team focused on enhancing the seaweed's health benefits, they took an integration aquaculture approach and combined seaweed with fish cultivation. This method helps the seaweed advance while purifying the seawater and stabilizing against environmental impacts. At its core, seaweed is the foundation to any aquatic ecosystem, it provides food, habitat, and shelter for numerous species, and filters the surrounding water by absorbing CO2 and releasing oxygen. But, seaweed also produces a wide variety of distinct bioactive compounds that are beneficial to humans. The seaweed currently living in these ecosystems (specifically the intertidal zone) are under extreme stress due to external factors, the main being global warming. These ecosystems are undergoing habitat loss, ph imbalance, increased water temperature, food depletion, and salinity. All of these factors contribute to a decrease in survival, but seaweed are adaptable and highly efficient beings. Over the recent years, according to study’s lead Ph.D. student Doron Ashkenazi, seaweed has developed chemical defense mechanisms that help them cope with the changing harsh conditions. 

Previously, this team conducted a study that looked into the materials that seaweed produces and the benefits attached to them. They developed an innovative technology that enabled the enhancement of seaweed to produce higher contents of protein and minerals such as–zinc, iron, iodine, magnesium, and calcium–all minerals that humans can benefit highly from. The current study travels more in depth from the previous one and tries to see if they can amplify the bioactive compound production. Also seeing if they can produce secondary metabolites such as antioxidants, protective pigments, and natural UV radiation filters. 

"We developed optimal cultivation conditions and invented a new and clean way to increase the levels of healthy natural bio-active compounds in seaweed to an unprecedented level. We in fact produced 'super seaweed' tailor designed to be utilized by the emerging health industries for food and health applications," stated Ashkenazi.

The results were ground-breaking, the antioxidant levels doubled, the natural sunscreen molecules tripled, and the protective pigments increased ten-fold. Using this method for future studies, the team believes that it is possible to elevate seaweed to another level with additional natural materials, ones with properties such as anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, anti-viral, and antibiotic. All of these materials can be collected and used as a natural and sustainable source for medicines, cosmetics, and other human resources. The researchers also press that this seaweed aquaculture method is environmentally friendly, preserves ecological balance, and protects the existing ecosystems from environmental risks. It minimizes the excessive amounts of anthropogenic nutrients and other pollutants–reducing GHG emissions, lowering the carbon footprint, and helping against habitat loss and climate change. 

“The study demonstrates, in a practical manner, how we can enjoy nature services without harming it. Just as the 'seaweed' suggests, we can learn from nature how to preserve it, and thus live and prosper alongside it,” stated Ashkenazi.