Turning alligator waste into 'gold'

Linda Benedict, Bogren, Richard C.  |  2/12/2010 10:15:24 PM

Louisiana produces about a million pounds of alligator waste – primarily carcasses – each year.

If Jack Losso has his way, that waste will be turned into a usable product that could add millions of dollars to the Louisiana economy.

Losso, an LSU AgCenter food science researcher, and his research team have developed a way to extract collagen from alligator carcasses into a form suitable for the cosmetic, food and pharmaceutical industries.

The cosmetic industry uses collagen in manufacturing personal care products, and the food industry uses collagen as a source for gelatin as well as for clarifying alcoholic beverages and other uses.

In addition, successful medical and pharmaceutical applications of commercially available collagen include the treatment of hypertension, urinary incontinence and pain associated with osteoarthritis and inhibition of cancer spread in the body.

Collagen has a variety of uses in biomedical applications.

“First is tissue engineering – creating artificial skin for grafts for burn victims and other applications,” Losso said. “Second is wound healing – companies are interested in putting collagen in bandages. It also can be used in emergency rooms for stopping bleeding.”

Most commercial collagen now comes from cattle and swine, but Losso said “mad cow disease” in England and Canada has made collagen users “anxious and looking for other sources.”

Marine collagen offers an alternative recogto collagen from cattle or swine. Shark collagen has long been used as an alternative, particularly for medical uses, including wound coverings, artificial skin, artificial bone, artificial cartilage, artificial tendons and surgical sutures.

Commercial collagen also comes from other fish.

“We started with removing collagen from fish skins – black drum and sheepshead – about two years ago and have a patent pending on the technique we developed,” Losso said.

“We’ve extracted collagen from the alligator cartilage and compared it with collagen from shark cartilage,” Losso said. “There is a striking similarity, biochemically speaking.

“What we produce is almost 100 percent pure,” Losso said. “The next step is FDA certification.”

Losso’s team includes fisheries and coastal issues agent Mark Schexnayder, aquaculture agent Mark Shirley and two other Food Science Department faculty members Michael Moody and Jon Bell, as well as Ralph Portier from the LSU Department of Environmental Studies.

Rick Bogren

(This article appeared in the summer 2005 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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