Food science professor Jack Losso
is determined to find medicine in a most unlikely place – waste products from seafood processing plants.
For some time now, Losso has believed that collagen, a protein with healing properties found in animal bones and skin, could prevent the development of certain human diseases. And this potentially valuable source of collagen is being thrown away by the tons every day.
Since graduate school, his research has been directed by the idea that there are compounds in food that can help prevent disease.
“When I came to Louisiana and saw the immense waste from seafood processing, I saw opportunity,” he said.
Growing up in a rural area in Africa, in what is now The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Losso says his dad, a nurse, wanted him to become a medical doctor.
“I scored very, very high on the ACT in chemistry,” Losso said. “On my application, my first choice of a major was medical school, my second choice was chemical engineering, but the government said chemistry. So that’s what I did.”
Losso’s education was decided for him by the government because he was good in science and also because there was a shortage of students entering the more difficult majors, like chemistry.
After finishing college, he was required to work two years for the government, and then he was free to go where he wanted. In 1982, he enrolled in graduate school at Washington State University in Pullman and studied food science. His focus was food fractionation and the chemicals contained in food.
Following graduation at Washington State, he was offered a postdoctoral position at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. While there, he followed research at the LSU AgCenter by reading the magazine Louisiana Agriculture. So, when a research position came open there, he applied and was accepted. In 1999, he moved to Louisiana and joined the AgCenter’s Food Science Department
Two of the food components with potential for biomedical applications most intriguing to him are lutein and collagen. He holds patents related to both.
Lutein, which is an orange-colored pigment, has been identified and recognized as one of the dietary strategies that can delay the onset and progression of macular degeneration – a condition that leads to blindness.
“Six milligrams of lutein per day can delay vision loss,” Losso said.
Losso has patented a way to isolate lutein from corn waste and corn contaminated by aflatoxin, which has no other use.
Losso also has a patent for collagen isolation from calcified tissues, such as from fish and alligator skin and bones, which are waste products.
There are several types of collagen, Losso said. Type I can be used in tissue engineering and in the cosmetic industry. Type II can be used to treat osteoarthritis and other inflammatory diseases.
Collagen or collagen fragments, like lutein, can prevent the excess development of new blood vessels. New blood vessel development is associated with chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes and macular degeneration, he said.
“Cancer, for instance, is a tumor that invades the body by forming new blood vessels so that it can go from where it is to other parts of the body, which is called metastasis,” he said.
Losso said this formation of new blood vessels is good as with wound healing but bad when the body does not stop the formation when it should.
Though Losso didn’t become the medical doctor that his father wanted him to, he is trying to find ways to make people healthier through food science.
About his African roots, Losso said some people still have a distorted view of Africa as a wild place.
“If your plane lands in Africa, it will not be in the bush,” Losso said. “It will be in a major city where you have skyscrapers, paved roads, electricity, running water, and you can watch a movie or TV shows like Dallas.” Johnny Morgan
is a communications specialist, and Linda Foster Benedict
is a professor and associate director, both with LSU AgCenter Communications
.(This article was published in the fall 2012 issue of Louisiana Agriculture magazine.)