Antarctic algae may have a stronger health-promoting effect than their relatives from warmer latitudes. A team of Turkish researchers is currently investigating which species of algae produce antioxidants and other beneficial compounds.
Several scientific studies have already revealed that marine algae produce antioxidant compounds that could help in fighting diseases such as cancer, diabetes or atherosclerosis. Ekrem Cem Çankırılıgil, a fisheries engineer at the Sheep Breeding Research Institute in Bandırma, Turkiye, suspects that Antarctic macroalgae, which have to cope with very extreme conditions, produce particularly effective compounds.
Therefore, he collected samples of Antarctic algae along the coast of Horseshoe Island to the west of the Antarctic Peninsula earlier this year, as he reports in the scientific journal Nature. The same island is also where the Turkish Antarctic Research Station is to be established.
The biodiversity of algae in the region is poorly studied and the scientists think they have identified more than 15 different species. Some of them were previously known only from other regions of Antarctica. Çankırılıgil suspects that biodiversity around the island may have changed because climate change and glacial melt have altered light conditions, brought in more freshwater and provided new nutrients.
Together with his team, he is now investigating which algae species could be beneficial for human health by analysing the samples for antioxidants, chlorophyll and other compounds, as well as proteins, lipids, amino and fatty acids.
Being exposed to intense solar radiation and high oxygen concentrations in marine habitats worldwide – conditions that favor the formation of free radicals – algae are thought to have evolved appropriate mechanisms to protect themselves from harmful effects.
An experiment in a study last year allowed the team to increase levels of antioxidant compounds in the brown algae Gongolaria barbata by altering the amount of light and salinity. They now hope one day to grow Antarctic algae containing many health-promoting compounds at ideal growing conditions. Today, algae extract is already included in dietary supplements.
Julia Hager, PolarJournal
Featured image: Michael Wenger
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