6 Dec. 2021 – A type of marine algae known as ulva, or “sea lettuce”, which is a diet food in places like Japan, New Zealand and Hawaii, could be of further benefit to humans. Laboratory experiments suggest that ulvan, an extract from this type of algae, may help fight COVID-19.
Other forms of edible seaweed have also shown promise as antiviral drugs against COVID – at least in very early studies done in test tubes and animals. But ulvan has also been tested as an antiviral treatment against certain agricultural and human viruses. This has led researchers to wonder if ulvan might be able to help prevent COVID infections.
To find out, scientists cultured ulva algae in a laboratory, extracted ulvan and then cells in test tubes to both coronavirus en na ulvan. When cells were exposed to ulvan, they were not infected with the coronavirus, according to experimental resultsPeerJ.
In Test Tubes
That said, it is possible that the process used to extract ulvan from seaweed may affect its antiviral properties. Researchers compared two extraction methods and found that one of them resulted in ulvan with more than 10 times the virus-fighting power. This suggests that more research is needed to refine the best method to develop ulvan with the best antiviral properties, the researchers point out.
One limitation of the experiment is that differences in the chemical substance makeup of the two extracts could have affected the outcome, making it difficult to know with certainty how much of the antiviral activity comes directly from ulvan, as opposed to these chemicals.
And even if the seaweed extract proves effective in more laboratory tests, it will still need to be tested in animals and humans. But should it be effective in human trials, seaweed extract has the potential to help prevent COVID infection in people who cannot easily afford or access vaccines, especially in low-income countries, the study authors come down.