Spanish researchers develop a system for mass production of pigments of pharmacological interest

July 20, 2005

Brussels, 19 Jul 2005

A research team at the Institute of Vegetal Biology and Photosynthesis of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) in La Cartuja, Seville, has developed a system allowing it to produce large amounts of lutein, a biological pigment of pharmacological interest. According to recent studies, lutein's antioxidant properties help to protect humans from degenerative diseases such as arteriosclerosis or cataracts.

Experts from the group 'Biotechnology of Microalgae' have succeeded in developing an innovative system to obtain this precious compound from cells of the green alga Muriellopsis. The culture system designed in Seville guarantees an abundant and sustained production and is considerably more profitable than conventional methods, based on the extraction of this compound from Marigold plant petals (Calendula officinalis), an orange flower with therapeutic properties mainly cultivated in the south of the United States and Mexico.

Miguel García Guerrero, director of the team, argues that one of the strong points of this recently patented system of culture is that the biomass production is ensured almost all year round, and does not depend on periods of flowering and harvesting, as it the case with Marigold plantations.

'The algae mature after seven days of batch culture. They are then harvested, taking care of maintaining a fraction of the cell suspension to sow a new crop of cells. This way, the weekly harvest is guaranteed almost all year round,' explains Dr García.

The algae are cultivated outdoors in open ponds. The microalgae suspension is continuously homogenised thanks to a simple system, formed by three trowels, that ensure constant agitation so that the nutrients and the light arrive correctly at all the cells. 'This also avoids deposits of algae in the walls and bottom of the pool and guarantees their development,' the researcher explains. A CO2 injection system feeds this gas into the pond during the day. It stops automatically when it is dark and the cells can absorb the gas naturally.

Experts consider that the average production of pure lutein can be as high as 200 kg by hectare a year. This represents a volume 20 times higher than the yield currently obtained with the extraction processing of calendula.

Lutein is a yellow carotenoid pigment produced by plants with several applications in the agro-food industry. Apart from being used as an additive in animal feed to enhance colour in meat and eggs, lutein is a light filter and an antioxidant that protects optic nerves and provides the body with numerous health benefits. Following the results of different studies, lutein is being considered as a nutrient for prevention of macular degeneration in the ageing population, heart disease, and to boost immunological response against various cancers.

For further information, please consult the following web address: http:///w icroalgas/Biotech_Microalgae.htm

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities
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