Prof. Kang Sa-ouk of Seoul National University has been conducting research into kimchi’s preventative and curative effects in relation to avian influenza. Even before the full results were known, his research was reported by some newspapers and television stations abroad. In March this year the BBC and Reuters issued special reports on the matter, and local American newspapers have reported about it.
Recently a Korea AgraFood reporter conducted the following interview with Prof. Kang.
When did you start the research?
Several years ago, when companies producing the Japanese variety called kimuchi were trying to usurp the dominant position of Korean kimchi in the international market. Before that there had been many kinds of scientific research conducted on kimuchi in Japan. But similar research on Korean kimchi had not been conducted extensively. In that situation 2 local venture capital companies asked me to do some research on kimchi’s good effects.
We heard that your research has concentrated on the lactobacilli in kimchi. Could you explain the reason for this?
In kimchi there are many kinds of microbes, but they do not make people ill. This is because the harmful microbes are eliminated by some other microbes. I made the assumption that lactobacilli probably play such a role by controlling harmful microbes.
How is your research progressing?
I have succeeded in isolating 5 types of beneficial substances from the lactobacilli, through a culturing method. And we are very near to revealing the structural formula.
As my research has not been fully completed yet, it is difficult to assert positive claims about the good effects of the substances. But I can mention 2 experiments, which give us some indication of the possible preventative and curative effects of the substances. In one of the experiments, conducted in March this year, diseased chickens were made to consume liquid containing cultured kimchi lactobacilli. And it did have distinct curative effects. The other experiment has been conducted for some time with shrimps on a fish farm in Indonesia, and concerns specially the viruses causing white spots. So far such symptoms have not appeared on the shrimps.
So, can kimchi really prevent avian flu?
Actually reporters from foreign newspapers and television stations have also shown great interest in this aspect of our research. But I cannot give a definite ‘yes’ at this point of time. Before I do so the results of my research so far have to be verified. So far it has been revealed that substances obtained from kimchi lactobacilli have some effects against Gram positive bacillus, Gram negative bacillus, and animal viruses. Considering this fact, it can be said that there is a possibility of kimchi having anti-avian flue effects.
What do you expect will be the positive outcome of your research?
I guess that when eventually some antibiotics are made using kimchi lactobacilli, they will be able to replace existing chemical ones. Many kinds of viral diseases cannot be cured through the use of existing antibiotics, but it has been found through experiments with animals that kimchi lactobacilli have this capability.
Is there anything else you want to mention about kimchi lactobacilli?
As my research continues, I realize how good a food kimchi is. Apart from its antibiotic effects, the kimchi lactobacilli improve the general metabolic rate of the body.
Prof. Kang Sa-ouk
Seoul National University School of Biological Science & Institute of Microbiology
Park Sung Eun firstname.lastname@example.org
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