Scientists rely on jellyfish to fight microplastics

Redness, papules, pains: with jellyfish, vacationers in the Baltic Sea and the often blurred North Sea swim. However, scientists are seeing opportunities to use jellyfish as fertilizer, animal feed, food and cosmetics and as a biofilter for microplastics.

Odense / Kiel (dpa) – With jellyfish, it's like mosquitoes: many people perceive them as annoying and painful. At the same time, the cnidarians that exist in the world's oceans for about 500 million years could acquire a new meaning as a resource.

"In principle, we see opportunities as organic fertilizers in agriculture, as food for fish farms or for cosmetics," said Jamileh Javidpour, marine biologist and researcher on jellyfish. The professor from the University of Southern Denmark in Odense has long worked at the Kiel Geomar Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research in Kiel.

"As part of an EU research project, we are particularly focusing on the use of jellyfish slime as a biofilter in order to filter microplastics from sewage treatment plants," he said. said the coordinator Javidpour. Because the jellyfish mucus can absorb microplastics.

This has already been proven in the laboratory experience. In three years, a microplastic filter prototype should be developed. "The goal is to prevent future contamination of the purification stations by microplastics." Scientists from the University of Haifa (Israel) are leading the filter development.

Wastewater treatment plants in Germany are expected to retain about 85-95% of microplastics in wastewater. This is the result of a study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Environment, Safety and Energy Technologies.

"This varies depending on the technical equipment of the treatment plant," says Leandra Hamann, doctoral candidate of the Oberhausen Institute. Larger particles were easier to separate. "The very small particles, particles and fibers floating in the water column seem to pose a problem."

On the option of jellyfish, Hamann says: "The idea is interesting in all cases, and we are also studying the idea of ​​developing a bionic filter to reduce microplastics and test mucus among other things, but not necessarily the mucus of jellyfish. "

The big question is ultimately where and how this material should be integrated into the treatment stages of the wastewater treatment plant and whether it selectively absorbs the microplastic or any existing particles and impurities. "Since the retained microplastics are now falling into the sewage sludge, it would be good to be able to develop a filter separating the microplastic separated from the other substances in order to be able to dispose of it later."

The EU supports the interdisciplinary project "GoJelly", launched from 2018 until the end of 2021 and endowed with nearly six million euros. It involves 16 research institutions from eight countries, including Israel and China.

For the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries, jellyfish could also serve as a resource. "Because cnidarians contain collagen, which is used for anti-aging creams, but also for medical devices," says Javidpour.

The addition of collagen from the outside, as do other cosmetics manufacturers, is not the approach of the Beiersdorf Group (Nivea), said a spokeswoman in Hamburg. "We rely on active ingredients (such as vitamin C) that support collagen production through the skin."

"You could use the nutrients stored in jellyfish as an organic fertilizer in agriculture," Javidpour calls. GoJelly trials have shown that nutrients derived from jellyfish work as well as chemical fertilizers.

But you must not imagine that large shipments of jellyfish should be dumped in the fields. "The goal is rather a sustainable approach to jellyfish, which are integral and feed 100 species of fish from the marine ecosystem."

According to Javidpour, the use of jellyfish as food for aqua culture also offers opportunities: "We are working on that." As food for humans, jellyfish are already used in Asia. "During a visit to China, I ate a jellyfish salad every day," Javidpour said.

And what is the taste of jellyfish? "At sea and very salty," says the scientist. The Asian preparation does not match the European taste. In order to make jellyfish a source of food for Europeans, a recipe book containing the recipes of an Italian chef is provided as part of "GoJelly". "Maybe there are also strawberry or chocolate desserts."

EU information on the "GoJelly" jellyfish research project

Welcome page of the EU research project "GoJelly"