Experts use shrimp shells to mitigate environmental impact

Researchers from Conicet and the National University of Mar del Plata (UNMDP) use shrimp shells discarded by the fishing industry to produce a formula capable of reducing the toxicity of pesticides used in the field by up to 80%.

“The starting point is the commercialization of shrimp, an industry with a great environmental impact due to its polluting capacity, which is present in many areas. We seek to take advantage of the peels, which are a source of biostimulants, such as chitin and chitosan“, Explain Claudia Casa Longue, a member of the Institute for Biological Research (IIB) which depends on Conicet and UNMDP. The chitosan to which the researcher refers is a chemical compound present in the shell of shrimp and a fundamental raw material for technological development.

For more than a decade, shrimp fishing has grown exponentially off the coasts of Patagonia and Buenos Aires, generating thousands of tons of shells per year. “The increase in these residues causes serious environmental problems in Patagonia, such as contamination of soil and groundwater, the release of gases into the atmosphere and the growth of the seagull population, which feed on these shells and can be vehicles of disease for whales“, analysis Vera AlvarezPhD in Materials Science and researcher at Conicet, who is part of the study group.

“Undoubtedly, if we take into account the enormous amount of waste generated by the shrimp industry, the recovery of all this biomass to produce chitosan is of enormous importanceboth from a scientific, social, economic and environmental point of view”, points out Daniela CaprileConicet postdoctoral fellow and specialist in the chitosan market.

Álvarez had been studying the antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiviral characteristics of chitosan for many years. This allowed him develops during the pandemic together with his team and that of researcher Verónica Lasalle a spray to use as protection against the coronavirus.

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Less toxic fertilizers

The work that has been done around chitosan for over a decade led to the creation of Unibaio in 2022. a technology-based company based in Mar del Plata which is responsible for the production of biodegradable nanotechnology from shrimp waste.

The technology developed by the company allows to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture and the pollution generated by the use of agrochemicals without modifying the entire formula of the products used in food production. “With this innovation, farmers can use the same pesticides or fertilizers that they used for a long time, but are now much less toxic,” says Álvarez, president of the Argentine Nanotechnology Foundation.

Then, the company aims to meet the requirements of the new environmental regulations that seek to ban pesticides that still have no substitutes. At the same time, they contribute to climate action and sustainably feed the world’s population.

Dialogue between disciplines

One of the pillars of the working group is the dialogue between disciplines such as biology, nanotechnology, economics and technology transfer. “The knowledge dialogue is very important because it facilitates collaboration between the different members of the group. What is more, allows identifying new opportunities for research and development of innovative and sustainable products”, emphasizes Álvarez.

“We’ve known each other for many years and managed to form a multidisciplinary and resilient team. The disciplinary perspectives are complemented, with a business vision of triple impact -economic, social and environmental- based on the circular economy”, concludes Caprile.

Formed by Álvarez, Casalongué, Caprile, Florencia Salcedo and Matías Figliozzi, the company grew with funding from the National Agency for the Promotion of Research, Technological Development and Innovation (R+D+i Agency) and the support of local and international accelerators.

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