Oceans of opportunity

By Paul Berryman

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Leatherhead food research, Food, Bacteria, Leatherhead food

At a recent Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council workshop, I was discussing food security and world hunger. I won’t rehearse the well-known ‘perfect storm’ paradigm, but suffice to say that food might run short.

We were suggesting novel food sources that don't take up much land. My starter for 10 was insect protein. Insects are easy to breed, favoured as a delicacy in many countries and maybe easier to look after than cattle or sheep.

However, the great untapped source of ingredients must be the ocean, which covers two-thirds of the earth's surface. So it was exciting when Leatherhead Food Research (LFR) recently announced a collaboration with Aquapharm Biodiscovery: a marine biotechnology firm at the European Centre for Marine Biotechnology in Oban, Scotland.

LFR's expertise in using natural plant extracts as food preservatives plus Aquapharm's collection of marine microorganisms should produce a range of new marine-based food additives.

By examining microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi, from a range of diverse marine habitats, it is possible to identify biologically active products with broad chemical diversity. These extracts will then be screened against a range of different pathogenic and spoilage microorganisms to select new candidates as potential food preservatives. Initial results will be available around Easter.

And that's just preservatives. Just think of all the marine organisms that could provide nutrients, antioxidants, colouring matter, flavours and even sweeteners.

The demand for 'natural' ingredients, including antimicrobials, involves many kinds of foods. Additive-free baby foods and natural snack bars are just two examples of the health and convenience trends that have shown market growth. Marine-based additives could make a big contribution to the 'natural' sector.

So let's solve world hunger. If huge whales can survive on microalgae and krill, surely we could make a tasty plankton dish? If not, it's back to the insects.

Paul Berryman is chief executive of Leatherhead Food Research.

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