Decoding the secrets of Japan’s fucoidan-rich seaweed

By Nathan Gray contact

- Last updated on GMT

Mozuku seaweed is naturally rich in the nutraceutical compound fucoidan (Image: Yusuke Sudo)
Mozuku seaweed is naturally rich in the nutraceutical compound fucoidan (Image: Yusuke Sudo)

Related tags: Gene

Researchers have begun to decode the genetic secrets of mozuku, a famous fucoidan-rich Okinawan seaweed linked to health and longevity.

The results of a collaborative study, published in DNA Research​, could help producers of the hand-farmed specialty ingredient to better understand the effects of climate change on yields – and could help industry to produce new, healthier, varieties of the seaweed, say those behind the research.

Mozuku seaweed is naturally rich in the nutraceutical compound fucoidan, which has been suggested to have a multitude of beneficial health effects including boosting athletic performance​, prevention and reversal of IBD​, being a ‘powerful, immune-priming agent’​, and potential anti-cancer effects​.

According to the researchers, the new data from the study could help to ensure consistent production levels of mozuku in the face of global warming and rising sea temperatures – which have recently led to lower yeids.

Such a step would allow for more widespread consumption and use of the seaweed and its functional ingredient fucoidan, which is already present in food supplements.

Led by Koki Nishitsuji from the Marine Genomics Unit of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST), the team noted that the cultivation of mozku (Cladosiphon okamuranus​) is vital to the economy of Okinawa. Indeed, they noted that of the estimated 20,000 tons of mozku produced in Japan in 2006, 99% of it was produced in Okinawa – almost entirely farmed by humans.

"Our study provides a platform for future studies of Okinawa mozuku,"​ commented study co-author Eiichi Shoguchi. "It represents the first step in understanding the organism in itself."

DNA study

The Japanese team led the decoding of the DNA of a specific strain of mozuku known as the S-strain in which they carried out an analysis of the mozuku's genetic code compared their results with related published studies.

Such an approach grounded the findings of the study in the wider landscape of the genetic studies of seaweeds, assuring the relevance and precision of the results, the team said.

"Having full access to the Okinawa mozuku's DNA will help in clarifying the evolutional strategy of the brown algae and its relationship with the surrounding environment,”​ said study leader Nishitsuji.

For example, by knowing its DNA - that is made by 13,640 genes - the team have now the possibility of developing a comprehensive and well-informed approach to the protection, growth and scientific understanding of mozuku.

"After obtaining this first genome, it will be easier to compare the different strains," ​Nishitsuji explained. "It will be then possible to develop a more resistant variety of mozuku."

The team suggested that a variety of mozuku more resistant to the effects of climate change could restore dwindling production levels, thus effectively helping the fishermen in their struggle and providing industry with a reliable source of a much-lauded functional ingredient.

Source: DNA Research
Published online, Open Access, doi: 10.1093/dnares/dsw039
“A draft genome of the brown alga, Cladosiphon okamuranus, S-strain: a platform for future studies of ‘mozuku’ biology”
Authors: Koki Nishitsuji, et al

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