Enabling production of the rare carotenoid diatoxanthin at industrial level using CRISRP/Cas9 gene-edited microalgae.
In DIATOX, we aim to genetically engineer microalgae to enable industrial production of the rare pigment diatoxanthin. Research indicates that diatoxanthin possesses antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Diatoxanthin is only found in a few groups of microalgae.
Diatoxanthin is produced by the algae as protection against high intensity light and can be viewed as a “sunscreen” pigment. Research on this rare pigment is limited, but recent data implies that diatoxanthin exhibits higher bioactivity than commercially available pigments.
Commercial production of diatoxanthin from “natural” microalgae is not feasible since the pigment is rapidly removed from the cells when they are no longer exposed to high intensity light, which will be the case during large-scale harvesting of algal biomass.
In addition, producing commercially interesting levels of diatoxanthin in “natural” microalgae will depend on subjecting the algae culture to high intensity light for a prolonged period of time. This can be technically challenging at high cell densities and costly in countries where algae production is dependent on artificial light.
In this project, we will create algae mutants that overproduce diatoxanthin without depending on exposure to high intensity light, and where the accumulated diatoxanthin remains stable even after removal of the algae cells from the light source. We will identify optimal cultivation conditions, and harvesting and processing methods that ensure high yield and intact bioactivity of the pigment.
Bioactive properties that may have a positive impact on human health will be investigated, and the potential for industrial production will be explored by companies experienced in large-scale microalgae production.
Producing a high-value product like diatoxanthin can cause microalgae cultivation to become economically viable, and open up the possibility of using the rest of the algal biomass for feed or production of biofuel.
Header photo: Alessandra de Martino and Chris Bowler