Natural blue dyes are challenging to create, as there are few sources of blue pigment in the natural world.

Nutraceutical Business Review reports that Scottish research scientists are scaling the ability to produce large quantities of a blue pigment-protein called C-phycocyanin (C-PC) to be able mass produce a high-value natural blue dye for use in the food, pharmaceutical and other industries.

Global demand for natural blue dye is expected to increase ten-fold in the next two years from the food industry alone, to a market worth about £350 million ($377,300,000 US). The colorant, which is derived from spirulina algae, is the preferred source of natural blue for industry. It is sought after to replace artificial colorants, which are quickly becoming unpopular with consumers.

Natural blue dyes are challenging to create as there are few sources of blue pigment in the natural world, and formulations are difficult and expensive to create in large quantities.

A £200,000 award from the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) will boost a research partnership between industrial biotech firm Scottish Bioenergy and scientists at the University of Edinburgh, to develop a large-scale process to extract C-PC from the spirulina.

Scottish Bioenergy, which specializes in commercial production of C-PC, has been working with experts in the University’s School of Biological Sciences on collaborative projects since 2012. The partnership has been accelerated by ongoing support from Edinburgh Research & Innovation (ERI), the University’s commercialization and industry engagement arm.

Scottish Bioenergy has recently overcome important technical obstacles and challenges linked to the scale of production. In this latest project, funded by IBioIC’s Micro Accelerator Programme, the team will identify and optimize techniques for extracting the pigment protein, and develop economically feasible methods for producing large volumes of C-PC. They will also engineer strains of bacteria to produce high yield and high purity C-PC.

Dr. Alistair McCormick of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences, who is taking part in the project, said: “We’re pleased to be embarking on the next phase of development for this sought-after pigment protein. This is an interesting scientific and engineering challenge and we hope our results will play a significant role in meeting the demand for this valuable product.”

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