Seaweed – an untapped source of protein and bioactive compounds for aquaculture

Seaweed – an untapped source of protein and bioactive compounds for aquaculture

Seaweed is fast gaining a reputation as the ideal sustainable food source. Certainly, the nutritional properties of seaweeds are both unique and interesting, with some seaweeds having protein levels as high as 47%. Seaweed, therefore, represents an untapped source of protein and has great future potential.

As the global population continues to rise, the need for sustainable, alternative sources of protein also increases. In fact, it is estimated that the worldwide requirement for food will increase up to 50% by 2030, thus highlighting the absolute need for sustainable development. Recently, Ocean Harvest Technology has worked in collaboration with a number of research institutes to evaluate the use of different seaweeds as a sustainable protein source for aquaculture.

Why Seaweed Protein?

Protein is the most expensive constituent of fish feed whereby global expenditure exceeds €1bn per annum. Fishmeal is a high-protein animal feed used extensively in aquaculture but uses wild fish stocks to feed farmed fish and is an unsustainable feed resource. The ability of fishmeal supply to meet future demand is a massive global concern – especially given that aquaculture production is growing at a rate of nearly 9% per annum.

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As wild fish stocks decline, the aquaculture industry faces a massive challenge to identify cost-effective and environmentally-friendly alternatives to fishmeal on which it is so heavily reliant. Seaweed protein has the potential to provide a solution to this problem as it is relatively underexploited, contains high amounts of protein and can be cultured in a sustainable, environmentally-friendly manner.

Essential Nutrients

Proteins are an important source of energy, present in all cells and are an essential component of most biochemical processes. Proteins comprise one or more chains of various amino acids, organised in a specific manner that give the protein a specific structure. When ingested, proteins are broken down into amino acids or short chains of amino acids called peptides. These amino acids play key roles in important metabolic pathways associated with maintenance, growth, reproduction, and immunity.

Amino acids can be classified as either essential or non-essential. Essential amino acids cannot be produced by the animal and must be sourced solely from the diet. Most seaweed species contain all of the essential amino acids and are also rich in some nonessential amino acids such as aspartic and glutamic acid.

In general, the protein content of seaweed ranges from 3-47% and considerable differences exist in the protein content of brown, green and red seaweeds. In contrast to brown seaweeds, red seaweeds contain higher levels of protein which can be up to 47% (Porphyra sp.). Brown seaweeds can have protein levels up to around 20% (Alaria esculenta) whereas the levels found in green seaweeds are as high as 29% (Ulva lactuca). Differences in season, species and environment can have a significant impact on the composition of amino acids and protein in seaweeds.

Bioactive Proteins

Seaweed is a natural source of biologically active proteins, amino acids and peptides. Two groups of bioactive proteins – lectins and phycobiliproteins – are present in some seaweed. Lectins are a group of carbohydrate-binding proteins that display anti-bacterial, anti-cancer, anti-HIV and anti-inflammatory biological activity; lectins have been successfully isolated from a number of seaweeds including Eucheuma sp. and Codium fragile.

Harvesting Seaweed to extract protein

Harvesting Seaweed to extract protein

Another group of proteins – phycobiliproteins – exhibit antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, cholesterol-lowering and antiviral activities to name but a few and have been isolated from the red seaweed, Palmaria palmata. A number of bioactive amino acids are also present in seaweed. One such example is taurine – a bioactive amino acid required for some biological functions. Other bioactive amino acids present in seaweeds include laminine, kainoids, and mycosporinelike amino acids. These amino acids have a wide range of biological properties including antioxidant, hypotensive, insecticidal, anthelmintic, and neuroexcitatory activity. In addition to bioactive amino acids, some bioactive peptides have been isolated from seaweed. These include carnosine and glutathione both of which are antioxidant peptides that protect cells from damage caused by reactive oxygen species. Another bioactive peptide produced by seaweed is Kahalalide F which is a cyclic depsipeptide with anti-cancer activity and is also active in the treatment of AIDS.

Seaweed Protein in Aquafeed

The functional biological properties of seaweed protein make it an excellent candidate for a natural, sustainable alternative to fishmeal in aquaculture. The capacity for large-scale production of seaweeds in Ireland, together with the high-purity seaweed protein extraction developed by Ocean Harvest Technology further enhances the future potential. The availability of such sustainable protein sources is a prerequisite for our ability to continually produce high-quality and safe products.

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Tide must turn to use potential of seaweed

An estimated 100,000 ton of seaweed washes up daily on the Irish coastline, but only a fraction of this resource is currently being exploited for its potential as a foodstuff, and the raw material for medical, cosmetic and other uses.

Countries such as Norway, France and Spain are decades ahead of us when it comes to the commercial harvesting of seaweed, and IFA aquaculture secretary Richie Flynn believes exploiting our seaweed resources needs to be part of any government vision for the overall seafood industry.

“There is huge potential for public-private investment on the seaweed side,” says Mr Flynn.

“Apart from the food industry, the research proves there’s a multitude of potential uses for seaweed in the medical and synthetics In the ocean, some seaweed stands proudly up from the Ocean floorindustries.

“It’s a really exciting area for new development, if only the relevant government authorities would allow our SMEs [small and medium enterprises] to fully research and develop the scope of the product that is out there.

“This is a sustainable and renewable resource, and 100,000t of it washes up on our shores every day.

“It’s a no-brainer that developing this resource should be a priority for the so-called ‘smart economy’.”

One company that is taking a lead in the hi-tech application of Ireland’s seaweed resources is Ocean Harvest Technology, based in Tuam.

After seven years of research, Ocean Harvest is ready to start commercial production of a new salmon-feed ingredient, which some experts believe could help revolutionise the €6bn global salmon-farming industry.

It’s an industry that has been dogged by environmental, animal welfare and food safety concerns, but some of these issues could be addressed by Ocean Harvest’s organic OceanFeed salmon-feed ingredient, which is made from a mix of seaweeds — 40pc of which is sourced in Irish waters.

OceanFeed replaces the synthetic chemical additives and colourants currently used in salmon fish feed and has been shown to improve the health of the environment in which the fish are reared.

Test results have also confirmed that fish eating OceanFeed have increased resistance to sea-lice infestation, one of the big environmental problems in salmon farming.

“As an industry, salmon farming has taken significant criticism in terms of environmental impact,” says Patrick Martin, an Irish seafood expert, who co-founded Ocean Harvest along with Dr Stefan Kraan, an internationally recognised authority on seaweed and former head of the Irish Seaweed Centre at NUI Galway.

“The long-term importance and value of aquaculture means that sustainable solutions have to be found and we believe OceanFeed will be a key ingredient in making the industry more environmentally as well as financially sustainable.”

EWOS, one of the main suppliers of feed for the global salmon farming industry, assisted Ocean Harvest on the technical side of manufacturing its OceanFeed product, and Dr Kraan says the industry response has been very positive. “It’s a slow process, but there are contracts in place, and the big retail players [such as] Tesco and Sainsbury’s are interested,” he said.

The Ocean Harvest Technology LogoOcean Harvest’s salmon feed ingredient was developed after several years of research into the commercial application of seaweed.

Dr Kraan believes it’s just one example of the type of product that could be developed from the seaweed species in Irish waters.

“We could build a whole industry around seaweed,” he said.

“The Norwegians have been at it for the last 50 years. Harvesting seaweed is like cutting your lawn — it always grows back. Apart from the food industry, there are many other applications in the medical, alginates and cosmetics areas, and seaweed could also be a key ingredient in the production of bioethanol.

“There are 625 species of seaweed around the Irish coastline, so Ireland should be heaven on Earth for seaweed researchers and entrepreneurs.”

– Ronnie Belle

Dr Krann inspecting seaweed

Salmon Feed Breakthrough for Ocean Harvest Technology

Salmon Feed Breakthrough for Ocean Harvest Technology

Ocean Harvest Technology, based in Galway on the Atlantic coast of Ireland is about to start commercial production of a new salmon feed ingredient that could revolutionise the €6 Billion global salmon farming industry.

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The industry has been beset by concerns over environmental impact, animal welfare and food safety concerns but all of those issues will be addressed by OceanFeed™, a wholly sustainable, seaweed-based salmon feed ingredient that not only replaces all synthetic chemical additives and colorants currently used in salmon fish feed – but also has been shown to significantly improve the health environment in which the fish are reared.

OceanFeed™ is a macro algae-based ingredient which is 100 per cent natural and wholly sustainable within the ocean environment.

Recently completed European sea trials with EWOS in Scotland have shown that the thousands of fish used in the trial have been healthier and displayed better weight gain, taste and appearance results when compared to fish fed on the current market leading feed.

Astaxanthin levels in fish fed on the OceanFeed diet were only 20 per cent of those in the control diet fed fish while OceanFeed™contained higher levels of natural pigments, notably Lutein, and of Omega 3 PUFA’s.

The feed ingredients are designed to reduce stress, enhance the immune system and minimize autoimmune problems, At the same time, the fish eating OceanFeed™ have significantly improved flesh quality and flavour — the ‘taste of the sea’ compared to a control test group.

The feed reduces many of the environmental issues associated with current aquaculture practices. Many of these have related to the use of synthetic, petroleum-based additives that represent about 20 per cent of the cost and 15 per cent of the weight of farmed salmon fish feed.

The market for additives used in the manufacture of salmon feed was worth more than US$615 million in 2007.

OceanFeed™ is the first commercial product to emerge from several years’ worth of research and development into the application of macro-algae and seaweed based products conducted by the team at Ocean Harvest Technology.

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When pigs will swim?

When pigs will swim?

The world population is ever increasing and so is pork consumption . During the last 40 years, global pork production increased with a factor 4 from 24.7 million ton in 1961 to 100.6 million ton in 2009 (FAO, 2011). However, as usual the case with intensive farming many disease-associated problems start to develop, resulting into increased chemical and antibiotic use in the industry. Bioactives in seaweeds might be one of the answers to make the industry more sustainable and chemical free, making pigs more of a marine mammal!

Image of two pigs

Link to OceanFeed Swine product information

 Disease and antibiotic use

Intensive pig farming is susceptible to many diseases amongst them several bacterial diseases and parasitic worms. In human medicine, antibiotic use is generally confined to treatment of illness. In contrast, antibiotics and other antimicrobials often are routinely given to food animals in order to grow animals faster and to compensate for unsanitary conditions on many industrial farms. Bacteria exposed to antibiotics at low doses for prolonged periods can develop antibiotic-resistance—a dangerous trait enabling bacteria to survive and grow instead of being inhibited or destroyed by therapeutic doses of a drug. Since many of the classes of antibiotics used in food animal production also are important in human medicine, resistance that begins on the farm can lead to a serious public health problem.  This has already happened in the border area between The Netherlands and Germany where pigs with a type of MRSA have developed 100% resistance to tetracyclines (an antibiotic) and has jumped from pigs to humans with the resulting consequences that there is no antibiotic treatment available. The same has happened in Britain with Clostridium difficile.

Recognizing the potential for a health crisis, Denmark stopped the administration of antibiotics used for growth promotion (i.e., non-medical uses). Today in Denmark, all uses of antibiotics in food animals must be accompanied by a prescription in a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship, and veterinarians cannot profit from the sale of antibiotics. In addition, farmers, veterinarians and pharmacies must report the use and sale of antibiotics, and farm inspections are conducted regularly. The Danish government and industry data show that livestock and poultry production has increased since the ban, while antibiotic resistance has declined on farms and in meat. There are real concerns that unless antibiotics are used much more sparingly we will soon find ourselves facing a range of serious diseases in humans and animals that can no longer be treated effectively.

 Natural alternatives

With several countries now banning or voluntary reducing the antibiotic use an urgent need has arisen to use alternative and sustainable feed ingredients and antibiotic replacements. The recent food scares in the swine industry in 2008 (Ireland) and 2011 (Germany) showing pork with unacceptable high levels of PCB’s and dioxins and other bio-accumulative contaminants, demanded further action to be taken to reduce contaminant levels in feed. Moreover, there has been a strongly growing demand for organic farmed products in many countries, insisting that pigs have to be organically fed and reared. In this respect seaweeds have received limited attention; nevertheless several studies have demonstrated that seaweeds can be used as partial replacement for many ingredients in animal feeds, such as, vitamin & mineral mixes, binders, antibiotics, and antioxidants. Several studies have shown that addition of single seaweed species can reduce certain enterobacteria, improve pig gut health and increase iodine in meat. Furthermore they have an antibacterial effect and prebiotic effect and help reducing scouring/ Diarrhoea and Ammonia reduction.

Certain bioactive molecules from seaweed like laminarin and fucoidan have a pronounced anti-microbial action, similar to in-feed antibiotics in piglets. This is beneficial from a performance perspective, as a lower microbial load will result in a lower energy cost to the pig. Also, the removal of harmful bacteria like E. coli helps control disease rates in piglets.

 Ocean Harvest Technology

The Ocean Harvest Technology LogoTo tackle current problems Ocean Harvest Technology has developed and specific macroalgae mix for the swine industry. Oceanfeed™- swine contains a plethora of natural bioactive compounds which by incorporating in the diet can modulate several functions in the pig and assist in the control of chronic diseases and infections found in the pig industry. It allows for disease-free farmed pigs to be reared in a more natural and sustainable way, easing concerns on environmental impact and sustainability. Oceanfeed™-swine is the first marine natural and sustainable functional feed ingredient derived from macroalgae. Nutrition plays a key role in the efficient production of pork, and accounts for more than 70% of the cost of production. Nutrition is constantly evolving in order to ensure we cost effectively supply the feeds to produce high quality pork.

Earlier this year Ocean Harvest Technology in conjunction with Sharragh pigfarms conducted feeding trials with 240 pigs and Oceanfeed-swine at different percentages of inclusion (0.5%, 2% and 5%) and compared the results against an industry reference diet. During and at the end of the trial 16 pigs were slaughtered and processed at the Dawn Pork and Bacon factory in Waterford. Intestinal samples were taken and meat samples were obtained after the pigs were processed by a local butcher (Jarlath Kelly, Tuam) and send to University College Cork for taste analysis and packaging trials. After 4 months of trial from weaning stage to 100 kg pigs the results showed a positive outcome in several ways.

The following results have been obtained:

  1. Higher weight gain, leaner meat and lower food conversion efficiency when pigs were supplemented with 0.5% Oceanfeed-Swine
  1. Significantly improved flavor, juiciness and overall consumer acceptability of the meat at 5% inclusion of Oceanfeed-Swine
  2. Improved observed health and alertness of animals at trial site

There are still some results to be analyzed on gut flora and gut development but the results so far are very encouraging for full commercialization of Oceanfeed-Swine. This strongly indicates that seaweeds could play an important role in intensive swine farming in Ireland and the EU.

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