Outdoor cultivation of microalgae for carotenoid production: current state and perspectives
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Microalgae are a major natural source for a vast array of valuable compounds, including a diversity of pigments, for which these photosynthetic microorganisms represent an almost exclusive biological resource. Yellow, orange, and red carotenoids have an industrial use in food products and cosmetics as vitamin supplements and health food products and as feed additives for poultry, livestock, fish, and crustaceans. The growing worldwide market value of carotenoids is projected to reach over US$1,000 million by the end of the decade. The nutraceutical boom has also integrated carotenoids mainly on the claim of their proven antioxidant properties. Recently established benefits in human health open new uses for some carotenoids, especially lutein, an effective agent for the prevention and treatment of a variety of degenerative diseases. Consumers’ demand for natural products favors development of pigments from biological sources, thus increasing opportunities for microalgae. The biotechnology of microalgae has gained considerable progress and relevance in recent decades, with carotenoid production representing one of its most successful domains. In this paper, we review the most relevant features of microalgal biotechnology related to the production of different carotenoids outdoors, with a main focus on β-carotene from Dunaliella, astaxanthin from Haematococcus, and lutein from chlorophycean strains. We compare the current state of the corresponding production technologies, based on either open-pond systems or closed photobioreactors. The potential of scientific and technological advances for improvements in yield and reduction in production costs for carotenoids from microalgae is also discussed.