Seaweed is a high-yield crop, with productivity levels as high as dense terrestrial vegetation. It is the largest aquaculture crop in the world with more than 25 million tonnes of seaweed produced per annum, which is steadily increasing at a rate of 8 percent per year and represents a $US7 billion dollar aquaculture industry.
The versatility of seaweed, and diversity of its uses, is why a multi-faceted approach is so important to the Seaweed Research Group. In addition to seaweed being an important food source for a growing global population, there is also massive scope to increase the commercial side of the industry and to create positive environmental change at a grand scale.
Research focus areas
Seaweed filters out trace minerals from the ocean and is high in elements like iodine, potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron.
Rich in vitamins, such as Vitamins A, B2, B12 and C, and naturally high in protein, fibre and essential fatty acids, seaweed contributes to daily nutritional requirements and sustainable healthy diets. Antioxidant and bioactive compounds found in seaweed have great potential to provide health benefits. It can be eaten in many ways, as well as used to produce low sodium salt and nutraceuticals.
Seaweeds and their extracts have many different applications, from food products to gelling agents, as soil fertilisers and in livestock feeds, as bioenergy, and for functional ingredients in nutraceuticals or cosmetics.
Because of the unique gelling agents that can be extracted, in products such as ice cream and toothpaste, Carrageenan is used as a thickening agent. Agar is used as a binding or gelling agent for foods and is an alternative to gelatine. It is used in cosmetics as an astringent and firming agent. The SRG researchers are investigating ways to broaden the commercial applications of seaweeds and their biologically active extracts.
Seaweed can play a vital role in helping to reverse the effects of water pollution, loss of biodiversity, and even significantly decrease emissions of greenhouse gases from agriculture.
Seaweeds form vast underwater forests that support coastal biodiversity and fisheries. Seaweeds sequester carbon and deacidify water. They also extract nitrogen from water and providing a natural method for the
bioremediation of wastewater. If given as a supplement, seaweed helps reduce the microbes in the cows’ stomachs that cause them to burp methane when they eat. If Australia could grow enough of the seaweed for every cow, the country could cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent.
Marine seaweeds have been shown to have bio-active compounds with antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties.
Seaweed could offer many potential health benefits and alternatives to help combat health-related conditions and improve wellbeing. In terms of individual and community wellbeing, the Seaweed Research Group is also developing citizen scientists and outreach programs for our communities.
There is more work to be done in this area but the group's work helps drive awareness and global recognition of what an important role seaweed can play in the health and wellbeing of the planet and its inhabitants.
The Seaweed Research Group collaborates with different government and community organisations on projects across Australia and the Asia-Pacific.
With research focused on developing new avenues for seaweed industry growth in Australia and the Indo-Pacific, the Seaweed Research Group lives and breathes innovation with a demonstrated track record in developing technical solutions and new intellectual property for key industry challenges.
The work and key projects of the group can be broken down into the following disciplines:
- Aquaculture and fisheries
- Environmental science and ecology
- Molecular biology, -omics and natural product chemistry
- Health and nutrition
- Socio-economics and livelihoods
- Business and innovation
The Seaweed Research Group has technical skills and extensive experience in the design and management of land and sea-based farming of seaweed, including the domestication and scale up of native seaweeds under intensive culture, their taxonomy, and the molecular identification of strains. We use sophisticated environmental science and monitoring skills in the ecological assessment of seaweed aquaculture and natural resources in shallow coastal environments. These skills are also complemented by controlled environmental laboratories which explore the influence of biotic and abiotic factors on seaweed production.
Group members in the “omics” team explore the genomic, gene expression and metabolomics of target seaweeds, working hand in hand on the elucidation and quantitation of seaweed natural products in USC’s advanced instrument laboratory.
Research on the biological properties of seaweed products is integrated with assessments of health and nutrition. The group’s work on the nutritional composition of seaweeds through to consumer preferences and consumption patterns is facilitated by its integration of consumer-focused market research and public health nutrition capabilities.
Across the Indo-Pacific, the Seaweed Research Group works with governments on the socio-economic aspects of seaweed production and processing, leading to livelihood benefits for coastal communities. We run workshops and capacity building on innovation and entrepreneurship for developing new products and applications across the entire seaweed value chain.
For more information about the Seaweed Research Group’s projects and capabilities, please contact Nick Paul via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Explore the Asparagopsis genome and more
We are excited to have developed our own Asparagopsis Genomics Portal (AGP) as a freely available resource for researchers and scientists globally interested in the Asparagopsis genome.
In Australia and across the globe, the Seaweed Research Group is training the next generation of seaweed researchers. Higher Degree Research (HDR) and Honours students with scholarships
are supported through research programs which are deeply embedded with industry, including targeted USC HDR scholarships, AusAwards and John Allright Fellows (ACIAR).
Interested students are invited to contact the relevant team member listed under Key members.
With a significant track record in translational research with the development of intellectual property and commercialisation, the Seaweed Research Group works closely with businesses on technical R&D at scale to create new opportunities for industry partners.