«Did you know?» n°3

💡Role of pigments in algae

➡️ Pigment diversification is at the origin of the main different lineages in algae:

  • Chlorophycae: chlorophyll b
  • Cyanophycae: phycocyanin
  • Rhodophycae: phycobiliproteins (phycocyanin, phycoerythrin)
  • Phaeophycae: chlorophyll c and fucoxanthin
  • Glaucophycae: phycocyanin and astaxanthin

➡️ But their role in cells is not to be just a colorful facade. As in plants, pigments are either:

  🔆 Photosynthetic: they capture photons and trigger the electron transport chain of the photosynthesis to turn the light energy into chemical energy.

  ⚡️ Photoprotective: in high light, they quench the excess excitation of chlorophylls and prevent the formation of reactive oxygen species that could damage cells.

  💡 Properties of pigments in humans

➡️ Besides their capacity as colorants (especially chlorophylls and astaxanthin), a lot of pigments possess properties highly valuable in the fields of nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals, food, feed, cosmetics.

➡️ A few specific examples are:

  💊 Fucoxanthin: antioxidant, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-obesity, anti-diabetes, protective effect against neurodegeneration, anti-microbial, anti-Alzheimer, etc. The fucoxanthin market and the related research studies are expanding fast in the last few years.

  🦐 Astaxanthin: properties of astaxanthin are quite similar to the ones of fucoxanthin, its market is more established than the one of fucoxanthin and is now relatively well implemented worldwide.

  🌀 Phycocyanin: its colouring, fluorescent and antioxidant properties are currently used in biotechnology, diagnostics, foods and medicine. The use of phycocyanin has been democratized during the past two decades, notably with the consumption of Spirulina, and represents now an important market.

  👆 Officially approved as a Blue Food dye by the FDA in 2016, phycocyanin is now found in a large range candy brands (Haribo, Smarties...) to replace synthetic dyes.


For more details:

✏️ Roy, S. et al.: Phytoplankton Pigments: Characterization, Chemotaxonomy and Applications in Oceanography, Cambridge University Press, 2011 

✏️ Mohamadnia, S. et al.: Production of fucoxanthin by the microalga Tisochrysis lutea: A review of recent developments, Aquaculture, 2020. Dot:10.1016/j.aquaculture.2019.734637

✏️ Ambati, R.R. et al.: Astaxanthin: Sources, Extraction, Stability, Biological Activities and Its Commercial Applications—A Review, Marine Drugs, 2013. doi:10.3390/md12010128