Back in 1973 a young grad student was shown the molecular structure of a then largely ignored omega 3 acid called DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid). “I knew immediately that what I was looking at was beautiful, elaborate and different from any molecule I'd ever seen,” says Dr. Norman Salem, Jr. of DSM.
Today, DHA can be found in everything from infant milk formulations to sports drinks and supplements, to fish and algal-based oils for animal nutrition – largely thanks to its ability to support human brain and eye function, as well as immunity to disease.
And Norman has been there every step of the way…
“Although traditionally sourced primarily from oily fish like anchovies, the DHA found in human breast milk leads to the incredibly high concentrations in the brain and retina,” he explains. “I didn’t know much about nutrition back then but it occurred to me: ‘What happens to all those children who aren’t breast-fed? How do we ensure they get their DHA?”
For the next 30 years, Norman championed the cause of DHA as a nutritional supplement through his work at the National Health Institute in the United States. The big breakthrough came through a series of supplementation and deficiency studies in 80s and 90s. “We began to realize that memory and learning really were significantly affected by DHA,” he recalls.
Now, Norman and his colleagues have found a new way to produce DHA, from algae. This new process is more efficient, and just as importantly it has minimum impact on the world’s dwindling wild fish stocks.
“I got into this branch of science to improve public health. But now we’re discovering entirely new ways to benefit society,” says Norman.
Some 45-years later, his scientific curiosity is still alive…