Important role for HEALTH researchers in Danish seaweed venture – University of Copenhagen

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08 March 2016

Important role for HEALTH researchers in Danish seaweed venture

Seaweed

A number of researchers from HEALTH, University of Copenhagen, will be playing a prominent role in a new research project investigating possible new uses of seaweed. Professor Mette Olaf Nielsen, Department of Veterinary Clinical and Animal Sciences, will be coordinating the research into the possible use of seaweed in pig feed.

While the world is fast running out of farmland, there is still plenty of scope for growing crops in the oceans. This is by no means cost-free, but we only have this one planet, which is under pressure from both population growth and climate change. It is therefore important to look at possible new ways of extracting what we can from the oceans, which cover 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface. This is where the idea of using seaweed as animal feed comes into the picture, explains Professor Mette Olaf Nielsen from the Department of Veterinary Clinical and Animal Science, University of Copenhagen. Professor Christian Fink Hansen and Associate Professor Hanne Helene Hansen, both from the Department of Large Animal Sciences, are also involved in the project.

“Many species of seaweed are extremely nutritious, and an important purpose of the project is to identify their potential in the production of bioenergy. However, they also contain bioactive substances which can be used, for example, in the production of foods and cosmetics. Our research will focus specifically on assessing whether the protein contained in seaweed can be used to feed pigs, and in that case whether it can replace other sources of protein from, for example, soybeans and other plants. Seaweed is a new source of protein, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it may be able to replace other sources," says Mette Olaf Nielsen before going on to explain that there may be more advantages to using seaweed in pig feed.

“Preliminary studies suggest that the composition of amino acids in seaweed proteins is beneficial to pigs. Another interesting question is whether the special bioactive substances contained in seaweed may offer interesting alternatives to antibiotics and zinc,” she explains.

“When piglets are weaned, their risk of developing diarrhoea increases. In the past, farmers used antibiotics as a preventive measure, but later on they started using zinc. As a result, the zinc content in soil is on the increase, which is not desirable."

Specifically, Mette Olaf Nielsen will be heading a feeding study which will determine how good a source of protein seaweed is, among other things when it comes to stimulating growth in pigs. Moreover, in vitro trials will establish whether seaweed contains bioactive substances which can prevent intestinal infections and diarrhoea in pigs. The project will run for three years and will, among other things, result in a PhD thesis.

More about the project
The project MAB4 is financed by Innovation Fund Denmark. Its specific focus is the growing of seaweed in the form of brown algae in Danish and Faroese waters. Brown algae contain various substances such as antioxidants, protein, polysaccharides and minerals, which can be used in the production of functional ingredients for animal feedstuffs, foods and skin lotions. For example, the sugar molecule laminarin has been shown to have anti-tumour, anti-coagulative, anti-inflammatory and anti-coagulation effects.

The MAB4 project is undertaken by a consortium of national and international algal and biorefinery experts from universities, GTS institutes, small and medium-sized businesses and relevant industrial end-users. The results of the MAB4 project will result in guidelines for stakeholders from the industry as well as the future growing of seaweed.