Kuehnle AgroSystems (KAS), a sustainable microalgae ingredients development company in Hawaii, has announced the issuance on August 9, 2022 of a plant patent, U.S. Patent No. PP34488, for its proprietary strain of Haematococcus pluvialis. This new strain, discovered in their heterotrophic algae propagation facility, is 100% natural, having not been genetically modified or undergone mutagenesis.
Haematococcus pluvialis is a well-known microalga widely cultivated commercially for the production of astaxanthin. This high-value red-orange carotenoid is prized as a human and animal food supplement for its numerous documented health benefits, potent antioxidant activity and pigmentation effects.
KAS’ patent is the first plant patent ever issued by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for Haematococcus pluvialis. Together with KAS’ recently granted US patent for heterotrophic fermentation of algae, this places KAS as the first and only company to achieve a patented, scalable industrial manufacturing platform for process and products from Haematococcus pluvialis by fermentation.
“Our discovery unlocks the enormous potential of Haematococcus pluvialis to meet the rapidly expanding demand for astaxanthin in several billion-dollar markets such as human nutraceuticals, functional foods, aquaculture and pet foods,” said Claude Kaplan, CEO of KAS.
“Today you can find natural astaxanthin in numerous consumer goods around the world, ranging from gummies and chocolates, to skin lotions, smoked salmon and fortified eggs,” he says. “Astaxanthin is unique among algal produced bioactives, not only because it is one of the most powerful antioxidants available, but because there have been over 1200 studies on its benefit for human and animal health.”
Cells of all known strains of Haematococcus pluvialis are green in the growth phase, with an abundance of green chlorophyll masking the carotenoid pigments that consist largely of the yellow/orange lutein and β-carotene. Such wild-type cells are also green when grown in the dark with added organic carbon as feedstock. When cultivated under stress conditions of nutrient imbalance or high light, wild-type cells transform into astaxanthin-rich red spores with thick rigid cell walls.
In contrast, KAS’ new patented strain is yellow with negligible chlorophyll during growth in the dark. The strain is further characterized by rapidly turning red from astaxanthin accumulation under stress and without the requirement of forming spores with hard walls. This thin-walled highly digestible material is ideal for the delivery of astaxanthin into foods and beverages as a whole-cell ingredient.
From a regulatory viewpoint, whole-cell Haematococcus pluvialis biomass has been sold in the EU, US, and other markets for over 25 years. The whole-cell ingredient is preferable as a food ingredient as, in addition to the carotenoids, it contains an assemblage of essential fatty acids, essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. Non-encysted cells are also attractive for easier extraction compared to light-grown encysted cells.
Chemical equivalency in pigmentation
The carotenoid composition of dark-grown Haematococcus pluvialis is identical to that of biomass currently produced photosynthetically for use in food, feeds, cosmetics, and dietary supplements. The astaxanthin fraction dominates the carotenoids in the biomass, comprising about 87% or more of total pigment. Chromatography reveals that the new strain also shares the characteristic astaxanthin ester and isomer chemistry of light-grown Haematococcus pluvialis, accumulating astaxanthin primarily in the form of monoesters and diesters and with predominance of the 3S,3’S isomer configuration.
The remainder of the carotenoid fraction in red cells is largely comprised of lutein, beta-carotene, and canthaxanthin. Extracts produced from dark-grown biomass fall within FDA and EFSA chemical specifications for astaxanthin-rich extracts from Haematococcus pluvialis for use as a novel food ingredient.
The company claims that their discovery of the new strain is critical to efficiently manufacture lower cost astaxanthin-rich algal biomass and extracts. “The immense interest that KAS is seeing from strategic partners positioned to commercialize astaxanthin in the human and animal markets is driven by our ability to manufacture a 100% natural product by fermentation at a fraction of the cost of current light-grown production underpinned by the firm’s strong patent position in this space,” says the firm in a statement.
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