As COVID-19 pandemic continues to spoil the rhythm of human life across the globe, people are hopefully looking forward to scientists and researchers to hear from them some positive developments that may free them from shackles of too many restrictions and get on their lives in the fullest forms as in the pre-pandemic days.

At this tough time when the entire humanity strives hard for better possible solution, one of the marine species, the seaweed, is now in limelight for its extraordinary medicinal properties. Indian Marine scientists have come out with a path-breaking research output that seaweeds are a wonder source of therapeutic agent against COVID-19, leaving us amazed to ponder in awe the valuable services of marine life. The scientists are also of the view that seaweeds have pharmaceutical properties against this pandemic, which, according to them, is yet to be explored.

In a major achievement to the Indian marine scientists, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has endorsed their observation that seaweed is an effective immunotheraputic agent against COVID-19, by sharing a research article by these scientists in WHO’s website under the section—“COVID-19 Global Literature on Coronavirus Disease”. The article was originally published by the Current Science with the title “Can sulphated polysaccharides from seaweed proved prophylactic and /or therapeutic solution to COVID-19 pandemc?”

This research envisages that the several polysaccharides isolated from red and green seaweeds have been identifed for their anti-viral characteristics. Authored by scientists from the ICAR-Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (CIFT) in Kochi, the research study claims that these polysaccharides have been found to have the “ability to inhibit the initial attachment of virus to the host cells which, in turn, effectively blocks the viral entry into the human body”.

The research article, which was authored by Ashish Kumar Jha, Suseela Mathew and C. N. Ravishankar, puts forward that seaweeds have unique metabolic and physiological properties as they are able to produce a great variety of metabolites. The scientists further argue that the sulphated polysaccharide, a type of such molecule present in seaweeds, is a wonder molecule having medicinal properties and “it works on different types of bacteria and enveloped viruses which are similar to the SARS-CoV-2”.

“Therefore in a world where more than 5 million infected people are struggling to
get some relief and medical professionals and researchers are still fighting to reach
any conclusive solution or effective medicine for SARS-CoV-2, sulphated poly-
saccharide from seaweeds can be a potent molecule to fight against COVID-
19 pandemic”, the scientists suggest.

The scientists at the ICAR-CIFT believe that their research opinion has got a fillip with the WHO endorsing the article by sharing it on their portal aiming to pass this information to global population and thus to help the fight against the pandemic. In an official communication the research institute, which is engaged in research related to fishing and fish processing in the country, claims that WHO’s endorsement is “an evidence for the scientists working in the field of marine resources and drug discovery for the claims they put forward on some of naturally available seaweed compounds”.

Sulphated polysaccharides are complex poly-anionic macromolecules containing
sulphate moieties and sugar backbone. Due to their unique chemical structures,
these compounds can interact with a wide variety of matrix and cellular proteins which manifest different pharmaceutical purposes.

Throwing light into the immune-factor of the seaweed, is a newbie super-food and is added to several health drinks these days, the study says that use of sulphated polysaccharides increases the secretions of interferon and interleukins suggesting it as a strong immune-stimulator. Referring to the research studies in the recent past that focused on the medicinal potential of the seaweed, the CIFT scientists point out that “carrageenan, a sulphated polysaccharide from red seaweeds has already been tried as therapeutic agent for respiratory illness like common cold and influenza virus H1N1”.

They further propose that focussed and detailed study on this highly potent seaweed molecule is required to explore medicinal and pharmaceutical solution in the fight against the SARS-CoV-2.

The bio-active metabolites of marine origin have always attracted the attention of medical practitioners and scientists for the past few decades. Seaweeds are one of the predominant oceanic flora and these invaluable marine herbs are considered as a prolific source of bioactive compounds. Seaweed has long been part of the traditional diet of coastal communities. It is widely consumed in East Asia, particularly in Japan, China and Korea. Studies show that in Japan the rate of mortality is less and hence their life expectancies are very high. The discovery of metabolites with biological activity from seaweeds increased substantially in the last three decades.

Perceiving the pharmaceutical and biomedical values of seaweeds, marine scientists in the country have already invested their efforts on research works in this area to develop scores of products ranging from the ones to be used as health supplements and nutraceuticals against life-style diseases. Dr Kajal Chakraborthy, Principal Scientist at the ICAR-Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) who devoted his scientific profession to develop a series of nutraceutical products from seaweeds is of the view that seaweeds possess diverse compounds of various bioactivitie endowed with anti-hypertensive, anti-inflammatory, and anti-carcenogenic activities. The CMFRI has so far come up with nutraceutical products for type -2 diabetes, obesity, arthritis, hypertension and thyroid, and some more are in pipeline. These psroducts have been out-licensed to major pharmaceutical companies and are commercially available in the market which, according to Dr Kajal, has huge demand from the public.

According to Dr Chakraborthy, the diversity of seaweeds is still an untapped reservoir of bioactive compounds. Recently, an intensive effort is on to boost the seaweed farming across the coastal belt of the country, especially on south east coast region. Under the aegis of the CMFRI, fishermen and farmers are engaged in seaweed farming as an additional livelihood which helps them steady their lives in the wake of poor return from dwindling marine catch.