A daily bulletin of news & opinion

15 March 2010

The words “jellyfish” and “lipstick” may not often feature in the same sentence. But Japan’s entrepreneurial scientists are in a race to produce the first range of jellyfish-related cosmetics, make-up and anti-ageing food and drinks.

Global warming has fuelled a surge in jellyfish in Japanese waters, resulting in growing problems for the nation’s fishermen as the creatures become clogged in nets.

Among the most troublesome are the massive “Nomura” jellyfish – measuring six feet in length and weighing hundreds of pounds – a swarm of which recently overturned a trawler in the Sea of Japan.

But Japan is starting to see this as an opportunity, not a pest.

Scientists are beavering away at the country’s Jellyfish Research Laboratory, the nation’s first dedicated laboratory created to develop the maritime creatures for commercial products, which opened its doors in Saitama last year. The Jellyfish Research Laboratory was set up with the support of the Japan Science and Technology Agency as well as cosmetics enterprise Nikka Chemical Co and the food company Maruwa Oil & Fat, on whose factory premises the lab is based.

Its scientists currently process around 200kg of jellyfish every week – extracting substances with potential. Within two years, they aim to be processing 10,000 tonnes of jellyfish a year.

Plans are in the pipeline for the launch of a range of jellyfish beauty and cosmetic products as well as soft drinks and snacks, according to Dr Takayuki Baba, executive officer of the lab.

Showing Monocle around the jellyfish lab and plant, he says: “I think within the next few years, it will become pretty commonplace in Japan to see jellyfish lipsticks and jellyfish drinks and other jellyfish products sitting on the shelves.” He adds: “We are utilising jellyfish waste to make new products. We have already patented a new discovery called Mucin, a substance extracted from jellyfish, and we are developing this for medical and cosmetic products. We’re also looking at using this in foods such as mayonnaise and dressings.”

The lab is not alone. Other companies tapping into jellyfish include Technoble, the cosmetic enterprise, which is working on products from extracted collagen – a massively popular beauty product in Japan.

Sayaka Matsuda, spokeswoman for Technoble, says, “Because of the massive outbreak of jellyfish causing trouble for fishermen, we started researching jellyfish to help society.

“Due to our research, we can extract collagen from jellyfish – which has very high moisture content – more effectively than from fish or animals.”

Those unable to wait for the new generation of jellyfish products can tuck into one of the few items that is already on the market – jellyfish ice cream.

Produced for the past three years by Kyoto-based Tango Jersey Dairy, the ice cream is a sweet dessert made from diced Nomura jellyfish mixed with milk, 200 cups of which have been produced this winter.

“Our business concept is to use local ingredients to make our ice cream,” says spokeswoman Fumiko Hirabayashi. You have to be impressed by the resourcefulness. It remains to be seen whether all things jellyfish will catch on.


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