Facts about Red Marine Algae

Red marine algae, a type of marine algae are used for treating many diseases, and are believed to be capable of boosting the immune system. Know more about this algae...
BiologyWise Staff
Last Updated: Apr 23, 2018
Red marine algae or seaweed is well-known for its medicinal properties. Marine algae are classified into three types, green, red and brown. However, all three types belong to different kingdoms as per the biological classification. Red marine algae are found in oceans, and generally referred to as sea vegetables.
The earliest written evidence of red marine algae was found in China around 600 BC. It has been used as a food in Asia since ancient times because of its nutritional as well as medicinal properties. Scientific research in this field started only in 1970s. Red algae are rich sources of minerals, carbohydrates, protein, enzymes and fiber. The mineral content in red marine algae has been found to be 20 times more than that of the plants grown on land.
Till now, more than 6,000 species of red marine algae have been discovered. They are unicellular as well as multicellular organisms and can resemble plants. They belong to kingdom Protista of the phylum Rhodophyta. They are eukaryotes, i.e., they contain nucleus enclosed by a membrane. The brilliant red color is imparted by a pigment, phycoerythrin; which absorbs blue light, but reflects red light. Besides phycoerythrin, red algae also contain other pigments like chlorophyll, phycobiliprotein, blue-colored phycocyanin, carotenes, zeaxanthin, etc. They carry out photosynthesis for producing energy, as chlorophyll is present in their body. Red algae can absorb blue light, and therefore they can flourish deeper than any other algae in the ocean. They are usually red colored, some other forms are blue or green in color. Red algae cell walls are double-layered, the outer wall is made up of pectic acid and the inner wall is mainly composed of cellulose. Coralline algae, Irish moss, gigartina are some types of red marine algae. Coralline algae is one of the main components of coral reefs.
A distinguishing fact about red marine algae is the formation of pit connection. Red algal cells never really undergo the complete phase of cytokinesis, a phase which occurs before mitosis ends. Since cytokinesis remains incomplete, the parent cell does not get divided into two separate daughter cells. When the parent cell undergoes division, a small depression is formed in the wall, which is referred to as a pit, the point where newly formed daughter cells remain in contact with the parent cell.
Uses in Medicine
Red marine algae have a wide range of medical applications. They are supposed to improve the body's immune system by increasing the count of white blood cells. This property can be attributed to the sulfated polysaccharides found in red algae. Sulfated polysaccharides are complex carbohydrates that contain sulfur. They stimulate anti-tumor agents and interferon, an antiviral protein that prevents the replication of virus. They strengthen the immune system mainly against viral attacks. Recent studies have shown their efficacy in controlling the growth of yeast and the virus that causes herpes.
Red algae is widely used in western countries for curing cold sores. They are the traditional medicine for many diseases like urinary infection, asthma, goiter, disorders associated with stomach, etc. It also provides nourishment to the skin, and hence is effective in eradicating skin problems like boils. They are also helpful in treating ulcers and tumors. The sulfated polysaccharides present in red algae have been found to be effective for diseases like HIV/AIDS, genital herpes, and influenza.
Uses in Food
Red marine algae reduces the level of cholesterol and fat in blood. So they can be beneficial for people who intend to lose weight. Also, the most important fact about them is that they have naturally occurring antiviral as well as immune enhancing agents. Probably that is why many Asian countries like China and Japan have been using red marine algae as food since ancient times. They are still regarded as one of the most beneficial sea vegetables. A type of red algae, the red dulse (Palmaria palmata) is a very popular source of snack food in Ireland and the Great Britain. Red algae is also used in the manufacture of agar-agar, a gel-like substance which has varied uses in the food industry, as a thickener and additive in ice creams, desserts, soups, and as a growth medium in laboratories.
Despite having so many uses, certain species of red marine algae can sometimes be toxic if they contain traces of arsenic, which can prove fatal to humans. If you intend to use this seaweed for food or medicinal purposes, make sure you buy the product from a reputed manufacturer and are fully aware which species you will be consuming, to avoid any harmful side effects.