By Cristina Gomez Suarez Ph.D.
Head of BioMedicine

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about the ocean? Maybe you are thinking about a beautiful beach, a colourful coral reef, a fishing trip, or some delicious seafood for dinner. The truth is the sea has always been a provider for humanity but what many people do not realise is that it provides more than food and the possibility of a relaxing getaway.

Marine macroalgae, or seaweeds, have been used as sea vegetables, medicines, and fertilizers for centuries (1). These macroalgae are a diverse group of marine organisms, which metabolism has evolved to develop unique pathways that help them survive in highly competitive environments (2). As a result, these organisms have been targeted for mining of natural biologically active components. Among all the different species of macroalgae that live in our oceans, around 1,800 of them are classified as brown algae (3). Brown algae color differs from dark brown to olive green depending on the proportion of the brown pigment (fucoxanthin) to green pigment (chlorophyll) (4).

Recent studies have shown that brown algae are rich in bioactive compounds, such as sulfated polysaccharides, phlorotannins and diterpenes. These compounds have been reported to possess strong anti-viral, anti-tumor and anti-cancer properties. At the same time, other studies opened the possibility of using the polysaccharides present in these species as prebiotic, with a great health potential, proven by feeding whole seaweeds or purified polysaccharides to laboratory and farm animals (5).

Brown algae capacity has also been described due to its content on phlorotannins which give them a potential application as a functional ingredient in food products, pharmaceuticals, and cosmeceuticals (6).

The never ending search for alternative resources and novel chemical structures with therapeutic usage, made scientists turn to the unexplored marine resources. Brown algae and the secondary metabolites produced by them could turn out into a useful lead in the development of new pharmaceutical agents. Further research is needed, especially in Indonesia’s endemic species, in order to identify and optimize the possibilities that these organisms put at our feet.

1. Paula Kiuru1, M. Valeria DʼAuria, Christian D. Muller, Päivi Tammela, Heikki Vuorela, Jari Yli-Kauhaluoma, Exploring Marine Resources for Bioactive Compounds. Planta Med., 2014; 80:1234–1246.
2. Pádraigín A. Harnedy, Richard J. FitzGerald. Bioactive proteins, peptides, and amino acids from macroalgae. 2010.
3. Blunt JW, Munro MHG. Dictionary of marine natural products. Boca Raton: Chapmann & Hall/CRC; 2007 (Available at
4. Kim and Pangestuti, Biological activities and potential health benefits of Fuccoxanthin derived from marine brown algae. 2011. Marine medicinal foods – Implications and Applications, Macro and Microalgae, 111-128. Doi: 10.1016/b978-0-12-387669-0.00009-0
5. Dai-HungNgoaSe-KwonKim. Sulfated polysaccharides as bioactive agents from marine algae. International Journal of Biological MacromoleculesVolume 62, November 2013, Pages 70-75
6. Yong-XinLiaIsuruWijesekaraaYongLibSe-KwonKim. Phlorotannins as bioactive agents from brown algae. Process Biochemistry Volume 46, Issue 12, December 2011, Pages 2219-2224

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