On producing natural astaxanthin in Bangladesh
August 28, 2016 — by Dr. Mahfuzur Shah and Dr. Maurycy Daroch
staxanthin is one of a group of pigments known as carotenoids, often called a super anti-oxidant – 65 times more powerful than vitamin C; 54 times stronger than β-carotene; 10 times more potent than β-carotene, canthaxantin, zeaxanthin, and lutein; and 100 times more effective than α-tocopherol. It can be obtained from synthetic and natural sources.
Synthetic astaxanthin can be synthesized by Wittig reaction from asta-C15-triarylphosphonium salt and C10-dialdehyde; while Phaffia yeast, and Paracoccus bacteria, krill and some microalgae are sources of natural astaxanthin. Among the microalgae species, Haematococcus pluvialis is the richest source of natural astaxanthin, with 20 times greater antioxidant capacity than the synthetic counterpart.
Astaxanthin has been widely applied in the food, feed, cosmetic, aquaculture, nutraceutical, and pharmaceutical industries. It can significantly reduce free radicals and oxidative stress and help the human body maintain a healthy state. Synthetic astaxanthin has not been approved for human consumption.
There are concerns about the safety of using synthetic astaxanthin for direct human consumption due to both different stereochemistry and the potential carryover of synthesis intermediates. These concerns make natural astaxanthin from H. pluvialis a preferred choice for high-end markets.
Natural astaxanthin has already been approved as a color additive in salmon fish feeds and as a dietary-supplement ingredient for human consumption in the US, Asia, and several European countries. Globally astaxanthin has achieved a market of 280 metric tons, with valuation ranging from $2500 to $7000/kg. It is estimated that, the market may increase to 670 metric tons, or US$1.1 billion, by 2020.
Currently, over 95% of the astaxanthin available in the market is produced synthetically, while H. pluvialis-derived natural astaxanthin corresponds to less than 1%.
Recently, demand for natural astaxanthin has been increasing, raising interest in efficient cultivation systems to produce astaxanthin from H. pluvialis. Even though key players like Cyanotech Corporation (USA), Mera Pharmaceuticals Inc (USA), Algatechnologies (Israel), Fuji Chemical Industry Co. Ltd (Japan) and BGG (China) are involved in large-scale cultivation of H. Pluvialis and astaxanthin production, their production capacity is not enough to meet the global demand.
More effort should be initiated for the large-scale cultivation of H. pluvialis and astaxanthin production by developing countries like Bangladesh. A country of about 160 million inhabitants, Bangladesh constantly faces national challenges in terms of food, health and nutrition, and energy supply in a sustainable manner. Even though the country has achieved near self-sufficiency in food grain production, it is far behind in the development of the health and nutrition sectors.
Microalgae biomass production, research and development to supply as food, feed and various industrial biotechnological applications are still in their infancy in Bangladesh. Few initiatives have been undertaken by the universities and research institutes for microalgal cultivation. And even though spirulina powder has been used as a supplementary medicine in Bangladesh, in most cases the raw materials are being imported from foreign countries.
Bangladesh is a tropical country with favorable climatic condition for microalgae culture (such as natural sunlight intensity, temperature, water sources etc.). It also has 0.73 million hectares of land unsuitable for agricultural crop production, which can be utilized for microalgae cultivation.
Bangladesh has a huge potential to produce H. Pluvialis for natural astaxanthin at a commercial scale. Worldwide-developed efficient cultivation methods can be adopted to produce a huge amount of H. pluvialis biomass with a lower price, due to cheap manpower and the resources availability in Bangladesh.
There are many challenges to develop large-scale commercial cultivation of H. pluvialis in Bangladesh, though, including a lack of proper scientific knowledge, research and development activities and skilled manpower; lack of initiatives by the government and private sectors; and a lack of awareness among the people for the utilization of microalgae-derived high-value products, like astaxanthin. In order to develop the microalgae production at industrial scale in Bangladesh, the following recommendations need to be taken into consideration:
- Scientific knowledge on H. pluvialis culture in local conditions needs to be enhanced by initiating research and development activities by universities and research institutes.
- Native pluvialis strains with good nutritional properties should be developed by establishing a national algal culture collection and research center.
- Initiatives should be taken to develop skilled labor in pluvialis production.
- Policy makers and the government should encourage private entrepreneurs for pluvialis production at commercial scale.
- A strong collaboration among government sectors, universities and research institutes, and commercial enterprises should be established for the development of pluvialis production.
- Initiatives to create local awareness to utilize pluvialis microalgae-based products for human consumption and other applications.
If the above steps are taken, natural astaxanthin produced from H. pluvialis can have a positive impact on human health issues – as well as Bangladesh’s economic growth – via neutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals, and the aquaculture and poultry industries.
Dr. Mahfuzur Shah (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Associate Research Professor and Microalgal Biotechnologist, and Dr. Maurycy Daroch (email@example.com) is Associate Professor and Renewable Bioenergy Researcher, both currently affiliated with the School of Environment and Energy, Peking University Shenzhen Graduate School, Shenzhen, China.