A team of Indian marine biologists has identified and discovered an expensive species of edible seaweed, known as ‘Green Laver’, from two distinct water bodies along the eastern coast of the country. It is also the first algal species discovered from the east coast of India till date.
A marine algal plant, or simply, a sea vegetable, Ulva, is rich in antioxidants and known to fight cancer. Being edible in nature, it finds extensive use as a condiment in oriental, Canadian and Irish preparations.
Due to low incidences of cancer in communities where ‘green laver’ is consumed as part of local culinary traditions, this genus has been in global limelight in the recent years, as a possible dietary supplement conferring protection from cancer as well as for the development of potent anti-cancer drugs.
Globally, the Japanese are among the highest consumers of green laver, one of the most expensive seaweed variety in the world. Porphyra, the red algae, is the most expensive seaweed variety available.
Green Laver refers to filamentous green seaweeds of the genus Ulva. The newly discovered species of filamentous green seaweed had been named as Ulva uniseriata Bast.
The work was recently published in the Indian Journal of Geo-Marine Sciences.
The study was led and carried out by senior scientist Felix Bast from the Department of Plant Sciences at the Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, and PhD student Pooja Rani. Under the research project, funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) INSPIRE Faculty Award, the researchers carried out extensive field surveys, along the lengths of both west and east coasts of the country, also covering Sundarbans and Andaman and Nicobar Islands from 2014.
Scientists successfully found the algal species growing abundantly at West Bengal’s Diamond Harbor, an estuary, located along the mouth of the Hooghly river, while the other site was a brackish lagoon, Pulicat Lake, located on the coasts of Andhra Pradesh.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Bast said: “As part of understanding the seaweed biodiversity and carrying out DNA-Taxonomy on these samples, we found that two samples collected from Diamond Harbour and Pulicat Lake belonged to the same new species. This is for the first time that it has been formally described, thus establishing species discovery.”
Scientists believe that favourable conditions for Ulva uniseriata to grow are found in places where there is low salinity (about 15 ppt). The locations be away from the direct effects of continuous lashing of sea waves and depends on the local estuarine bacterial communities, known to influence the morphology of these seaweeds.
What makes the species unique is that the algae, when observed under the microscope, consists of a single row of cells arranged along a line, hence the name uniseriata.
“These ‘filaments’ are un-branched, which is yet another defining characteristics of the new species, making it a unique morphology in support of species discovery,” said Bast.
Although ‘Green Laver’ is not very widely consumed by Indians, barring in some preparations of a few exotic dishes by high-end restaurants, scientists are of the opinion that cultivation of Ulva uniseriata can be an economically viable alternative for local people in these two remote regions.
“The algae, if cultivated commercially, and the dried algal biomass be exported, can act as a sure means to generate much-needed supportive revenue for the local farming communities in these low-economy regions. Considerable global attention is expected for this discovery,” Bast said.
Globally, a number of scientists have proposed green algae as a strong contender for the production of bio-fuel by carrying out mass cultivation, as the algae can grow in seawater, estuaries and coasts.