They are natural or synthetic additives authorised by food security regulations and used to colour food and drinks in an artificial way. A research team of the Universities of Granada, Jaén and Almería have devised a process to obtain a natural colorant from the micro-algae Porphyridium cruentum.
Many marine algae are rich in proteins with fluorescent properties. They contain a kind of molecules –chromophores– which pick up and emit light. In the case of the species Porphyridium cruentum, the protein known as ficoerithrin confers the micro-algae a reddish colour. Scientists Bermejo Ruperto, of the Universidad de Jaén, José Mª Álvarez Pez, of the UGR [http://www.ugr.es], and Francisco G. Acién Fernández, Emilio Molina Grima and Mª José Ibáñez González, of the Universidad de Almería, have designed a process to obtain the B-ficoeritrina protein from this microalgae, which is characterized by its “high performance”, about 66%. According to José Mª Álvarez, researcher responsible of the group ‘Photochemistry and Photobiology’ of the Universidad de Granada, this value is “twice as much as the highest published up to now obtained with chromatographic method”. They have separated and purified amounts of this on an almost industrial preparatory scale.
An example of the relevance of this finding is the fact that the results of the research work have been included in an article of a special issue of the prestigious Journal of Chromatography.
Colorants are basically used in food and agriculture, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry to improve the aspect of the products and make them more attractive to consumers. B-ficoerithrin is “very fluorescent” and its colour “looks like strawberries milkshake’s”; therefore, according to the researcher, it could take the place of other colorants.
However, the use of a compound as a colorant must be authorized by the regulations currently in force. In this sense, scientists are dealing with the study of the spectroscopic features of B-ficoerithrin. This way they will obtain information about the possible structural changes of the protein when it is subjected to extreme conditions during the production process of foodstuffs or pharmaceutical o cosmetic formulations.
On the other hand, the researchers are going to set in motion a R&D&I project with the spin-off of Almería Bioalgal Marine, S.L., a technological innovation company that works on the treatment and commercialization of microalgae aimed at the sector of aquiculture and the preparation of functional food. In addition, among the commercialized products there are pigments produced from microalgae. Biolgal Marine is part of the business projects supported by the Department for Innovation, Science and Company through the Program Campus, managed by Invercaria.
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