Ito-mozuku: The genome behind the ‘superfood’ seaweed

Ito-mozuku, the 'superfood seaweed'
Mozuku, a type of brown seaweed, contains exceptionally high levels of fucoidan compared to other seaweeds. Fucoidan is thought to have many health benefits, such as preventing the formation of tumors and blood clots. © Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST)

Researchers at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) have sequenced the genome of the brown seaweed ito-mozuku to provide data to local farmers.

Ito-mozuku, or Nemacystus decipiens, is a popular Japanese brown seaweed. The study shows the world’s first draft genome of ito-mozuku.

How will climate change affect harvesting seaweed?

Currently farmers harvest thousands of tons of seaweed each year, raising rows of it along the tropical coastline of Okinawa, Japan. However, scientists have predicted that pollution and rising ocean temperatures will reduce this yield.This will mean that farmers will have to adopt new techniques.

The health benefits of Ito-Mozuku

Three years ago, the same unit released the first draft genome of the Okinawa mozuku, which is another local species of edible seaweed.

Both Okinawa mozuku and ito-mozuku contain incredibly high concentrations of fucoidan. Fucoidan is a slimy substance which is believed to have health benefits such as hindering the formation of blood clots and cancerous tumours. The researchers’ discovery of the genes which cause this concentration of fucoidan could have applications in the health food industry, as well as for farming.

The significance of the Ito-Mozuku genome in farming

Dr. Koki Nishitsuji, the first author of the study and a staff scientist in the OIST Marine Genomics Unit, led by Prof. Noriyuki Satoh. Nishitsuji is now working on developing the genetic markers to distinguish ito-mozuku from its close relative.

Nishitsuki explained: “My future plan is to establish new methods for cultivation of this species. Using those markers, we can do cross-breeding…This is a popular method for making new varieties of land plants, especially wheat and potatoes, but in the case of seaweed, no one has succeeded in cross-breeding.”

“Land crops have a long history of genetic study,”Nishitsuji added. “But no one has pursued this kind of research in seaweed.”

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