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The use of Seaweed in Biotechnology

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Seaweeds are aquatic plants like kelp and algae that thrive in saline ocean waters. Seaweed has been touted as a weapon in the war on aging skin, a replacement for seafood, a way to improve the qualities and texture of foods, and is now the next big hope for biofuel production.

The idea of using seaweed to make biofuel is getting the most attention today since seaweed has high concentrations of the right kinds of sugars for making fuel. According to MarketWatch, a team of scientists found a way to use microbes that eat the alginate in seaweed. The microbes then produce sugars that would convert to fuel and other chemicals. Daniel Trunfio is the Chief Executive Officer at Bio Architecture Lab in Berkeley, California. He said:

"About 60 percent of the dry biomass of seaweed are sugars, and more than half of those are locked in a single sugar - alginate, Our scientists have developed a pathway to metabolize the alginate, allowing us to unlock all the sugars in seaweed, which therefore makes macroalgae an economical alternative feedstock for the production of renewable fuels and chemicals."

One estimate is that only 3 percent of the world's coastal waters would produce more than 60 billion gallons of much cleaner burning seaweed biofuel. 

The beauty of seaweed is that it is globally available and does not require dry land or precious freshwater to grow. Seaweed farming is the biggest aquaculture industry in the world. According to Seafood Source, over 17.3 million metric tons of seaweed are farmed, mostly for food supplements, with China as the lead grower. The next decade, however, will see explosive growth in seaweed farms throughout the world if the biofuel process and infrastructure becomes viable.

But, as with grain biomass based biofuels, there will be competition for the world's seaweed. Here are the most well known technologies that currently use large amounts of seaweed.

Food technology: Seaweed contains Alginate, carrageenan, and agar. These substances help ice cream to freeze in a creamy fashion by controlling the way that ice crystals form. Beer foam becomes more stable and lasting. Many foods, including mayonnaise, yogurt, syrups and sauces are thickened and stabilized by these substances.

Nutrition: Seaweed contains omega-3, proteins, vitamins and minerals, and is in increasing demand where seafood supplies are becoming scarcer. Processed seaweed supplements are in big demand.

Cosmetics: Seaweed stabilizes such cosmetic items as toothpaste and helps to gel various substances together. With no scientific proof yet, seaweed is claimed to have anti aging properties, but has always been known to be good for the skin.

Sexually transimitted disease: Seaweed is found to be somewhat effective in fighting Human Papillomavirus (HPV), Herpes and HIV and is an ingredient in sex lubricants.

Fertilizer: Seaweed is an old natural fertilizer that has been effectively used in coastal areas of the world. Seaweed has a lot of nitrogen and potassium, plus the kind of carbohydrates that help to condition the soil. The first seaweed was easy to harvest because it could be easily found cast ashore. The weed was too heavy to carry inland, but today's new technologies process the seaweed so that it can be transported and used anywhere.

Water treatment: After the alginate has been removed, seaweed may be capable of lowering the amount of phosphorous, nitrogen and ammonium in waste water. These chemicals are responsible for causing too much algae and other aquatic plants to grow in wastewater.

The Huffington Post has an extensive review of the top 9 uses for seaweed.

More about this author: Elizabeth M Young

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