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Applications of biochemistry and molecular sciences research

Could seaweed help to beat obesity? Seaweed isn’t technically a plant, but it does have some serious plant power.

Throughout this course we will see a range of examples of research from biochemistry and the molecular sciences. It is important to recognise that these types of studies require significant amounts of funding, which can be provided by governments, industry or other organisations, such as charities.

In the UK a significant amount of research funding is provided by the Research Councils. A major proportion of funding for biochemistry-focused research comes is provided by the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) and we will hear more about some of the research they have funded throughout this course. Molecular sciences research is also funded by the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) and the MRC (Medical Research Council). There are also many charities that fund research involving biochemistry, often focusing on a specific type of disease. The largest of these charity funders is the Wellcome Trust, which supports a wide range of biomedical research. If you are interested to find out more about these major funders, see the links provided below.

The people who fund research want to see a return on the money they provide and scientists are becoming ever more aware of the need to demonstrate “impact” from their research studies. Examples of societal impact from molecular sciences research will be given throughout this course, with the first of these examples provided below.

Plants vs Obesity

Obesity already costs the UK £4.2bn per year, which may double by 2050 because by then half of the UK population could be obese. That adds up to crisis, for health and economy. Biochemists are trying to identify novel ways to address this problem, as highlighted in this video produced by the BBSRC.

In the UK, fat makes up about 40% of our diet. Researchers found that alginate from seaweed helps to stop the body from digesting fat and it doesn’t give the side effects that come with other obesity treatments. Alginate is in lots of foods we eat, but only in low amounts, so scientists have found ways to extract it from seaweed and incorporate it into other foods. When researchers added it to bread, tasters actually preferred the seaweed bread. This is just example of the way that everyday plants – and seaweed – are doing amazing things.

One of the researchers, Dr Matthew Wilcox from Newcastle University, talks about his research into the slimming powers of brown seaweed on the ICaMB – Inside Cells and Molecules Blog.

© UEA and Biochemical Society, 2018. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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Biochemistry: the Molecules of Life

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