When industrial biochemist Dr. Susan Marshall asks high school students who visit her lab to fillet a fish, it’s not about testing the food preparation skills of our future scientists and innovators, it’s about ask them to discover a new way of looking at fish.
Marshall runs Cyber-Marine, a program run by Plant & Food Research that helps us think fish is more than just a food that ends up on our plates. His team is developing the technology to extract complex molecules found in fish, allowing them to be used in cosmetics, dietary supplements and biomedical applications.
“Most people look at a fish and they see the fillet and the scraps. But the fish is actually like a container of really useful components that can be used in so many ways,” she says.
Using whole fish to make high-value products has the potential to increase the value of New Zealand’s seafood industry, without the need to catch more fish or affect the availability of seafood.
“What if we looked at a fish and asked ‘what do people want, and what are they willing to pay?’ It’s about understanding whether the greatest value comes from producing a food for export, or from a variety of industrial molecules, or a combination of the two.”
The challenge is to design the processes and technology that can extract the different types and combinations of molecules from seafood, without destroying them. This is the aim of Plant & Food Research’s five-year research program funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Jobs.
Ultimately, the program aims to create smart factories using AI-integrated sensor systems that will be able to tell what’s in any raw material and direct how the factory works. milking it, extracting the most valuable molecules in a way that retains their useful properties. .
This is not possible with current technology, which focuses on one or two products, with the rest usually going into fishmeal or other low-value products.
“It’s about doing more with the fish we catch,” says Marshall. “It’s about caring for the animal and caring for the environment. It’s not about throwing away loads of chemicals and making a lot of waste in the process of making an expensive cosmetic. We need processes that use less water and less energy, and are more efficient.”
Marshall says it’s exciting to see a world-renowned team of chemists, biochemists, engineers and computer scientists come together with the seafood industry to work on a project that combines local expertise and international. It is an example of scientific research aimed at creating a more sustainable and prosperous future for New Zealand.
“We’re really proud to have the people to do this, and it’s being done here,” she says. “There will be more returns and there will be more jobs created, but Cyber-Marine is also about the whole idea of doing the right thing, and I think that’s what resonates most with people when I talk about it. We’re thinking about how we can have a sustainable economy with more wealth for New Zealanders, but without risking our environment to do it.”
The kiwifruit company Nanolayr is an example of how the benefits of marine products can be harnessed for use in the skin care industry. Marketing manager Laura Knight says sustainably sourced New Zealand marine collagen has been a key part of growing their business.
“What NanoLayr, in partnership with Plant & Food Research, has successfully accomplished is the extraction and purification of high quality collagen using a low impact process. This extracted collagen is then electrospun into nanofibers using NanoLayr’s proprietary sonic electrospinning technology. We then used it to develop a cosmetics base platform called DermaLayr,” she says, “which is a dry film that is easily absorbed by the skin where it delivers active ingredients to firm, brighten, protect or repair”.
“DermaLayr has essentially expanded the potential of a raw material and created an entirely new delivery mechanism and category in the skincare and beauty space,” Knight says. “It’s all about efficacy and how, by turning collagen into nanofibers, collagen can penetrate deep into the dermal layer of the skin where it really works. In our DermaLayr Marine+ product, collagen is the carrier, so it can transport and deliver several active ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, squalene, the list is long.”
After initial success in South Korea, where K-beauty is known for being an early adopter of new technologies, NanoLayr has seen brands in the United States, Europe, Japan, Hong Kong and China. look for DermaLayr technology.
Knight says NanoLayr’s commitment to sustainability is an essential part of being a Kiwi company operating in an international market. “As global demand for water increases, waterless beauty reduces water consumption and reduces the amount of water shipped around the world in products. DermaLayr as a Dry Film addresses this trend while weighing less than topical creams, which results in a much lower carbon footprint.”
For more information on the work of Plant & Food Research, please visit www.plantandfood.co.nz