Scientists untangle sargassum’s benefits - Toxic arsenic hurts seaweed’s potential, but researchers hunt more positives
Sargassum has been a significant threat for fishing and tourism interests in the region, but a group of researchers at The University of West Indies, Mona, have found that the notorious seaweed has economic potential despite some negative properties.
The group from the Department of Chemistry partnered with the University of York in the United Kingdom to undertake the study.
The findings were published in the Science of the Total Environment journal after the analysis of samples procured along the Palisadoes heading to Port Royal.
“We initially expected to get it from the north coast, but when we went bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on the north coast to collect samples, there was none to be found, even though a couple months before that, the space was inundated,” said Winklet Gallimore, a lecturer in the Department of Chemistry at The UWI.
The research team, which included Gallimore, Doleasha Davis, Sanjay Campbell, and Melissa Marston, conducted a biochemical and elemental analysis of three types of pelagic sargassum. They concluded that in general, its relative high arsenic content and the presence of metals limited its potential.
“From a cosmeceutical standpoint, that wouldn’t be a challenge, but more from a nutraceutical angle, it would pose some issues,” said Gallimore, who has been lecturing at The UWI for the last 16 years.
“The concept of going along the fuel-production line, that seemed to be more plausible,” she added.
Some of the potential uses that have generally been explored in the study of sargassum include its use for bioremediation – the removal of contaminants and toxins. Sargassum can also be used a texturing agent for the food industry as well as for nutraceuticals, biofuels, fertiliser, animal feed, and cosmeceuticals.
But Davis said that based on their research, she would not recommend the use of the seaweed for fertilisers or animal feed because the arsenic content surpassed recommended levels for livestock.
The 31-year-old researcher, who is currently pursuing her PhD in natural products marine chemistry, said she wouldn’t advise its use as a food additive either.
Davis went to York University to do much of the work and explored what chemicals were in different samples.
Research started in 2019, but Gallimore said it is ongoing as they intend to test samples to determine the potential for antifungal activities.
“If we were to wait to get all answers to all questions about different organisms, we wouldn’t finish,” said the lecturer.