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Courtesy of Mike Allen and Steve Gschmeissner

A novel technology for stress-free, light-induced synthesis of carotenoid pigments in microalgae (IBioIC supported)

Principle investigator: Michele Stanley
Scottish Association for Marine Science

Fucoxanthin is a brown pigment found in algae. It is a carotenoid with a great number of antioxidant properties. In humans, fucoxanthin fights against cellular damage. Various benefits of fucoxanthin have been documented including anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and even anti-obesity effects. Humans cannot synthesize fucoxanthin and we obtain it only via our diet, so fucoxanthin has been sold mainly in the form of health supplement tablets. The fucoxanthin market is growing rapidly, reaching $64 million in 2019, so cost effective production systems are in a high demand. Diatoms, a group of microalgae, are packed with fucoxanthin and are therefore commercially cultivated for fucoxanthin production in Asia and North America. Microalgae cultivation generally occurs in two steps. During the first step, microalgae are encouraged to grow rapidly in optimal conditions. During the second step, microalgae are purposefully stressed to trigger the production of antioxidants. During stress, such as high light intensity, microalgae produce antioxidants and other compounds to battle the unfavourable conditions. This two-step strategy has been the traditional way to produce pigments and other high-value compounds, however there are downsides to this process. Inducing stress is costly, time consuming, and most importantly it slows down microalgal growth. With our partners at Xanthella LTD, we propose to customize light cultivation conditions to simultaneously enhance both microalgal growth and fucoxanthin production. We will take advantage of fucoxanthin’s absorption spectrum and its ability to absorb light in the blue and green wavelengths. Artificial lights, especially LEDs, are becoming cheaper and more efficient, allowing us to make cost-effective changes to the lighting system of the photobioreactor. By providing a mixture of blue and green light, long-term fucoxanthin synthesis will be triggered without inducing stress and compromising microalgal growth. In addition, we will quantify the capital and operational costs and present a business case for applying this novel technology on a largescale. Our goal is to present a template for cost-effective microalgae cultivation and to pioneer fucoxanthin production in the UK.