Of Mardi Gras Beads And Medicine

Mar 6, 2019

MARDI GRAS BEADS - Tons of plastic beads litter streets, clog drains, and wind up in landfills after Mardi Gras season.
Credit Courtesy: wikimedia-commons

MARDI GRAS BEADS -  Yesterday  was  Fat Tuesday, marking the end of another  Mardi Gras season and ushering in the beginning of Lent.  The Parades are over and the clean up has already begun in New Orleans and other areas where thousands upon thousands of Mardi Gras beads were thrown.  Some researchers say more than 25 million  tons  of these plastic baubles were thrown during parades and many of them wind up in landfills or sewer drains and because they’re 

plastic and  aren’t  bio-degradable , they pose an environmental problem.   One biological sciences professor from LSU  claims he has discovered a way to make a more Earth-Friendly bio-degradable Mardi Gras bead made from micro-algae. 

"I have a family friend who lives in New Orleans and they are the ones who want to change the way to celebrate Mardi Gras," explained Kato. "They are deeply concerned about the environmental impact of Mardi Gras beads."

LSU Biological Sciences Professor Naohiro Kato developed biodegradable Mardi Gras beads and doubloons pictured here from algae.
Credit Photo Credit: Alison Satake, LSU.

That's Dr. Naohiro Kato of LSU, he got the idea for making a more "green-like" Mardi Gras bead when friends at a party asked him if such a thing was possible. And so he started experimenting with micro-algae to see if it could produce oils, which is a key ingredient in making plastics.

"I'm a plant-cell biologist studying how oil accumulates inside micro-algae which is a tiny creature which we can find at anyplace in water bodies like a river or pond and oceans," said Kato.

And so Kato started experimenting with micro-algae to see if he could produce enough oil which is a key ingredient  in making plastics.

"And then in the lab we tested it and surprisingly,  it worked!" explained Kato.

Dr. Kato took a 16 foot above ground pool and grew enough micro-algae and harvested enough material to make bio-plastics. But he soon discovered that producing biodegradable plastics costs 10 times more to produce than regular plastics. However Dr. Kato discovered that micro-algae also produced a number of nutraceutical compounds that could be used in medicines and food supplements.  One such compound fucoxanthin has shown to have natural anti-cancer properties. 

Micro Algae samples in lab.
Credit Courtesy: LSU

The nutraceutical industry could benefit from these extracted compounds and would be much more profitable and supplement the production of the bioplastics for a variety of applications.  Dr. Kato has a patent pending and launched a start-up called Micro Algae, LLC.  He hopes to get enough investment to ramp up production of micro-algae, is currently in talks with a nutraceutical company and is awaiting a contract order to make biodegradable Mardi Gras beads which he hopes to begin making this summer.