VEGA News Item

Science Favours Sustainable Mariculture - 23/04/2010

Marine industries are gaining a lot of attention as sources of food, pharmaceuticals and bio  fuels

1. Eleven genes in the microorganisms that break down carbohydrates in seaweed also occur in bacteria isolated from the intestines of Japanese people, but are absent from the gut microbes of North Americans. A tradition of seaweed eating in Japan, dating back at least to the 8th Century, had caused their gut bacteria to adapt to the natural diet: marine microbes in the gut probably exchange genes with bacteria in the organ giving some ability to digest the weed.

2. Marine industries ("mariculture") are gaining a lot of attention as sources of food, pharmaceuticals and bio fuels. Gelling agents and gums, such as alginates, agar agar and carrageen, are alternatives familiar in the vegetarian cuisine to meat-based ingredients such as gelatine and equivalents derived from fish. Some of the environmental problems, especially for in-shore activities, are common to many forms of aquaculture, but as with agriculture damage is likely to be less when the harvests are plants rather than animals (which may be as "lowly" as corals).

3. The human gut is home to trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms, most of them beneficial and keeping potentially harmful competitors suppressed by pressure of numbers and demands for essential nutrients. Food poisoning ensues when the invading pathogens upset the smooth working of the host's digestive system and causes loss of efficiency: The question remains however, if Japanese people benefit from bacteria in their gut that carry the genes or it is only the microorganisms that enjoy the advantage.

4. Our 'Portfolio of Eating Plans' offers a number of suggestions for uses of sea plants and their derivatives. The coasts of the British Isles and Brittany in France offer scope for local enterprise, especially where fishing is proving unsustainable. Our database carries more information and hints. Laver "bread" is commercially available in tins; it contributes nicely when stirred like cream into a soup needing a touch of green colouring and a mite of iodide to stimulate the thyroid gland.


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