The waters around Iceland are not only an abundant source of food, but they can also provide us with various substances that can be of use in our struggle against bacteria and other microbes. Some of the material hitherto dumped as waste in the processing of fish for food is now worth more than the edible parts. One of the substances formerly considered worthless is trypsin, an enzyme that digests proteins. Ágústa Guðmundsdóttir, Professor of Food Chemistry, is currently working on extensive projects exploring the microbicidal effects of trypsin from cod on bacteria and viruses. In Guðmundsdóttir’s work the energy of many institutes and companies in Iceland and abroad are combined.
“The results of these projects have been good concerning the publication of conclusions and the education of graduate students, furthermore many products have been launched on the market,” says Guðmundsdóttir. The High-Tech company Zymetech is a direct associate in Guðmundsdóttir’s research. The late Jón Bragi Bjarnason, who was a professor at the University and a great entrepreneur, founded the company 16 years ago.
“I have been so lucky that I have been able to combine the financing of my research at the University of Iceland with the collaboration with Zymetech. The research has increased the prestige of the Icelandic scientific community abroad with a number of published articles and innovative products on the market,” says Guðmundsdóttir.
Many are familiar with the skin cream Penzim, developed from cod waste, launched by Zymetech at the turn of the century. In the same year a patent was granted for the cream in most countries of the world. The launch of an oral spray to counter colds by the medical company ColdZyme last year was received with enthusiasm. That product is based on eight years of research and development by Zymetech, and the University on the activity of trypsins, in collaboration with the Swedish bio-technical company Enzymatica.
“Collaboration such as this is an effective way to maintain the development of master’s and doctoral studies in Iceland. It is also nice to be able to provide students with a chance to get to know the real world of biotechnology at Zymetech. Society benefits that part of the scientific community take a direct part in developing businesses,” says Guðmundsdóttir.
Guðmundsdóttir finished her PhD in microbiology and molecular biology from the School of Medicine at the University of Virginia in 1988. Her first research projects at the University of Iceland dealt with microbicidal substances from fish bacteria, along with the isolation and definition of genes for digestive cod enzymes. She also worked on the production of enzymes from microbes, but the isolation, cleaning and definition of enzymes from cod waste was carried out the Science Institute of the University of Iceland.
“Biotechnology with an emphasis on microbiology and molecular biology have been my main field of research”, says Guðmundsdóttir on her background. “I wanted to use my training from my doctoral studies for new projects that could increase knowledge in the field, and create jobs in the future. When we turned medical use of cod enzymes microbiology was useful, because the emphasis in research has been towards the use of cod enzymes to limit the growth of bacteria and viruses.”
As the research progresses, more products from trypsin are likely to emerge. Guðmundsdóttir’s work has been carried out at the School of Health Sciences at the University of Iceland, in collaboration with the Science Institute and the University Hospital. The Technology Fund and AVS – Research Fund for the Fish Industry are among those who have funded the projects.