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EDINBURGH, Scotland — Could algae help to cure the common cold? Scottish scientists are investigating the possibility of turning waste molecules from the superfood spirulina into a treatment for colds, COVID-19, and other viruses.

ScotBio, based in Livingston, West Lothian, is looking at how to harness the antiviral properties of the molecules – saying that they’re finding “promising initial results.” Spirulina is already an ingredient in commercial products, including dietary supplements and food colorants.

Research shows that spirulina is a potent source of nutrients. It contains a powerful plant-based protein called phycocyanin, which reportedly has antioxidant, pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory, and brain-boosting properties.

By separating molecules into different chemical groups, researchers have identified the most effective antiviral extracts against COVID, common cold viruses, and influenza. Experts hope the research will help in the fight against common viruses and future pandemics.

The biotech company is working with the University of Edinburgh, Robert Gordon University, and the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC).

“Working with the project consortium has enabled us to fractionate spirulina into distinct chemical groups and then screen the extracts in a safe environment,” says ScotBio development manager Joe Palmer, according to a statement from SWNS.

“Through that, we have identified compounds that could be particularly effective against a broad range of viruses from what was previously seen as waste. We can now work on recovering and purifying these molecules as high-value ingredients.”

ScotBio creates natural colorants, plant-based proteins, and nutritional ingredients used by the food, cosmetics, textile, and pharmaceutical industries. They derive these products from algae which is traditionally grown in pond systems, which are seasonal and subject to environmental contamination.

The firm has developed indoor vessel-based systems for growing the algae. From that, they get cyanobacteria, which interferes with viral transmission and modulate the immune system response to infection.

“The next step for us is to better understand the market opportunities for these molecules and to fully resolve the relationship between molecule chemistry and their antiviral mechanisms,” Palmer adds. “Our aim is for this project to be a catalyst that will unlock a large and untapped market, helping in the fight against common viruses and future pandemics.”

South West News Service writers Ellie Forbes and Kristy Dorsey contributed to this report.

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