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© Neena Bhandari, Indo Asian News Service

ImageSydney, April 24 (IANS) The all pervading stench from waste at a seafood market in the heart of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu inspired 27-year-old Renuka Karuppuswamy to turn the stinking prawn waste into a health food supplement.

Karuppuswamy recalls how they walked pass the seafood market, on the way to school, and used to cover their noses to keep off the stench from the huge pile of rotten seafood waste disposed at the market.

"I wanted to do something about it and find a solution to this smelly problem," says Karuppuswamy, who is now a food science and technology doctorate student at the School of Chemical Sciences and Engineering, University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney.

Her research promises to turn millions of tonnes of seafood waste around the world into a useful commercial health supplement.

An estimated 1.44 million tonnes of seafood waste is generated worldwide every year, most of which is dumped in landfill or oceans.

"The antioxidant, called astaxanthin, recovered from prawn waste has 10 times more powerful antioxidant capacity than beta-carotene, which is the common antioxidant found in fruits and vegetables. Astaxanthin recovered from prawn waste may be used as a dietary health supplement," Renuka explained to IANS.

Astaxanthin gives cooked prawns their red colour and is contained in the shells and heads, which are thrown away.

Traditional methods of recovering astaxanthin from prawn waste use solvents. "These methods generate solvent disposal problem, require additional time-consuming, post-processing steps and degrade this expensive antioxidant. In Australia, this pigment costs around Australian $210 ($200) per gram," informs Karuppuswamy.

Her technique works at lower temperature, recovers more astaxanthin and causes less degradation to the antioxidant than other methods.

"The new method of recovering astaxanthin from prawn waste eliminates the problems associated with solvent extraction methods. It offers the possibility of recycling the solvents used, thereby making the method commercially viable," Karuppuswamy said.

"My method is also environment friendly as the solvents and gas employed in the process can be fully recycled, the used shells can also be further processed to obtain other valuable compounds," she adds.

Karuppuswamy, who did her bachelor of engineering in agriculture at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU), won a scholarship for Master of Engineering in Biotechnology at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in Thailand.

"Thailand is one of the major contributors to prawn waste generation," says Karuppuswamy, who has been researching prawn waste management for the past six years.

So what brought her to UNSW? Karuppuswamy says, "Most of my friends with agricultural background prefer to go to the US. I wanted to try something different and so I chose Australia for further research."

She has been named a finalist in the prestigious DuPont Australia and New Zealand Innovation Awards for work with significant benefits for the environment. The final selection will be May 16, 2008.

© Copyright Neena Bhandari. All rights reserved. Republication, copying or using information from any content is expressly prohibited without  the permission of the writer and the news agency through which the article is syndicated.
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