New research into cancer-fighting sea cucumbers aims to kick-start aqua farming industry

Sea cucumber

Researchers have carried out studies to help boost industry in rearing sea cucumbers, a creature known to have cancer-beating benefits.

The sea cucumber – not a vegetable as the name suggests – is a worm-like creature that lives on the ocean’s floor.

They are a delicacy in Asian cooking, and have been used in traditional medicine and are increasingly being studied by the pharmaceutical industry.

However industry in rearing sea cucumbers has not taken off, due to the lack of knowledge about some of the species’ biology, ecology and reproduction.

Rita Santos, a first year Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences PhD student who published papers on the research, said:

“Aqua farming sea cucumbers is a potentially profitable industry as a food product – they are low in fat and high in protein and amino acids, which are essential for human health.

“However there is also a market for use in medicine can also have a massive impact on our lives.

“For example, we know that extracts from a certain species of sea cucumber, the Holothuria forskali, can be used to can be used to inhibit cancer cell’s viability and cell’s proliferation by 100% and 92%, for breast cancer and liver cancer respectively.”

This is the first work providing reliable data that combines both the science and seafood potential of a widely distributed sea cucumber species, Holothuria forskali and Stichopus regalis.

The experimental work studied the reproductive biology of the Holothuria forskali, revealing the best period for spawning of the species – a vital source of information for aquafarmers.

The research team also measured the antioxidant, antimicrobial and antitumor activities, useful for the development of new drugs against diseases.

The sea cucumbers were also analysed to understand the benefits for human health from a nutritional point of view.

“Sea cucumbers are highly marketable due to their nutritional value and their use in pharmaceuticals”, says Rita.

“I hope this new research into the biology of these creatures will give aqua farmers, businesses, nutritionists and pharmaceutical industries the background they need to tap into this resource.”

This project was undertaken during Rita’s Masters Degree project in Peniche, Portugal with the GIRM (Marine Resources Research Group).

 Read the papers:

Sea cucumber Holothuria forskali, a new resource for aquaculture? Reproductive biology and nutraceutical approach, Aquaculture Research (Doi: 10.1111/are.12683)

The Biotechnological and seafood potential of Stichopus regalis, Advances in Bioscience and Biotechnology (Doi: 10.4236/abb.2015.63019)

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