Transforming Food Waste Into Wonder

Creative techniques that repurpose food waste into a range of valuable products are giving even fruit peels and fish scales a new lease on life.

Scaling up collagen concoctions

Unsurprisingly, a significant portion of lost resources come from non-edible parts of food like fish scales, scraped off and stashed into bins. While these aquatic creatures’ flaky coverings may not seem like a big deal with one meal, the sheer volume of the seafood sector builds up to tons of fish waste—much of which might still be harboring hidden value.

At Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, researchers have been working on prying open fish scales from sea bass and tilapia to derive the precious resource, collagen. This strong and flexible fiber is found in all sorts of tissues in the human body, from blood vessel linings to tendons and bones.

With chemical modification techniques, the team created collagen materials that could be dissolved in water and incorporated into wound dressings to provide super-healing potential. Strikingly, applying fish scale-derived collagen patches prompted the human endothelial tissue to produce collagen type IV fibers, which are important for blood vessel formation, at a rate more than double that of bovine-based collagen.

Amid cultural considerations and the risk of disease transmission, collagen derived from cattle, sheep and swine has seen very little clinical use, but fish scale-based materials could provide a viable and even more effective alternative for treating injuries.

Moving forward, the researchers are also exploring partnerships with Singapore’s fisheries to scale up their waste-to-resource solution, allowing what was once a practically useless waste product to evolve into an extremely valuable ingredient for advancing tissue repair and regeneration.

Erinne Ong reports on basic scientific discoveries and impact-oriented applications, ranging from biomedicine to artificial intelligence. She graduated with a degree in Biology from De La Salle University, Philippines.

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