Willow Biosciences bids for slice of astaxanthin market with precision fermentation tech breakthrough

A bright red carotenoid and powerful antioxidant used in multiple industries from food and nutrition to cosmetics and animal feed (representing the bulk of the $750 market in 2022), astaxanthin is primarily produced via chemical synthesis from petroleum derivatives.

However, several companies including Cyanotech, AlgaTech, BGG (Algae Health Sciences), Algalif, Valensa, Fuji Chemical (AstaReal), Atacama Bio Natural Products, and Piveg now produce commercial quantities of astaxanthin from the microalgae species Haematococcus pluvialis ​grown in big outdoor raceways/ponds or in photobioreactors (glass tubing outside in the sunlight).

While several firms have been developing yeast strains to produce astaxanthin including Israeli firm NextFerm and California-based Biomedican, it is still an emerging area, says Willow Bio, which has developed yeast strains that produce high purity astaxanthin bio-identical to that found in nature.

Like Biomedican, Willow started out producing cannabinoids such as CBG via microbial fermentation, but started exploring other functional ingredients given the challenging economics of cannabinoid production created by the ongoing regulatory impasse​ and price erosion from over-supply in the hemp extract market.

‘History showed us many strains that claimed such cost savings that worked well in the lab, but never could be scaled up

But why make astaxanthin from yeast at all if you can extract it from microalgae?

“What we see in the market is that the attraction to customers is the ‘pure, consistent, and sustainable’ option, batch to batch consistency, and the ability to add only astaxanthin without other products found in the algae matrix,” ​CEO Peter Seufer-Wasserthal told FoodNavigator-USA.

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