SUPER seaweed resistant to disease could provide a major boost for Scotland's burgeoning aquaculture industry, it is claimed.

The sector, which includes fish farming and seaweed harvest, is currently worth £1.8 billion to the economy, but the Scottish Government aims to double this to £3.6b by 2030 to make the country a "global leader".

The first guidelines for the commercial cultivation of seaweed, which is popular in Asian cuisine and hailed as a superfood due to its high nutrient content, were published in March.

However, farmed seaweed is "extremely susceptible" to disease, threatening yields and profits.

Now researchers at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) say a DNA breakthrough has taken them a step closer to breeding a disease-resistant crop, boosting the industry at home and abroad.

Experts at the Dunstaffnage centre have established the genetic code of "tough" Porphyra umbilicalis, a red alga better known in the UK as laver.

One of the world's most valuable commercial seaweeds, it can withstand a range of conditions.

Researchers have now mapped its 13,125 genes to help understand its resilience and create a new variety capable of resisting a range of diseases.

Examination of pathogen receptors, which work like disease-fighting antibodies, found the species's defences are "unlike other plants".

The findings are now published in the American journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Dr Yacine Badis of SAMS said: "Like any living organism, algae are plagued by diseases. Understanding how they detect and defend against disease is key to unlocking the future development of resistant strains.

“Although red algae and land-based plants are related, the typical defence mechanism found in plants was not detected in Porphyra.

"This means that Porphyra has original pathogen detection strategies, a finding that opens exciting avenues of research into red algal immunity and its use in modern breeding programmes.

“UK research on Porphyra umbilicalis has previously helped to shape the global seaweed industry - the British botanist Kathleen Mary Drew-Baker unveiled the life cycle of this alga and paved the way for the industrialisation of seaweed in Japan – and we hope our work can play a part in developing this industry into the future.”

SAMS molecular phycologist Dr Claire Gachon added: “This work is part of our long term efforts to support the development of seaweed aquaculture worldwide through a better understanding of the diseases that plague the industry.”

The announcement of the breakthrough follows reports published on Monday revealing fears about UK food security following Brexit.

A report by Sussex, City and Cardiff universities claimed the UK Government has provided no detail on agriculture and fisheries plans for post-Brexit Britain, with "total silence" from ministers on the food supply chain.

One third of the UK food supply is currently sourced from the EU and question marks remain over the continued availability of the migrant labourers that currently work British farms. The report said: "The risk is that food security in the UK will be seriously undermined."