Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 80, Issue 1, pp 1–14 | Cite as

Production of phycocyanin—a pigment with applications in biology, biotechnology, foods and medicine

  • Niels T. EriksenEmail author


C-phycocyanin (C-PC) is a blue pigment in cyanobacteria, rhodophytes and cryptophytes with fluorescent and antioxidative properties. C-PC is presently extracted from open pond cultures of the cyanobacterium Arthrospira platensis although these cultures are not very productive and open for contaminating organisms. C-PC is considered a healthy ingredient in cyanobacterial-based foods and health foods while its colouring, fluorescent or antioxidant properties are utilised only to a minor extent. However, recent research and developments in C-PC synthesis and functionality have expanded the potential applications of C-PC in biotechnology, diagnostics, foods and medicine: The productivity of C-PC has been increased in heterotrophic, high cell density cultures of the rhodophyte Galdieria sulphuraria that are grown under well-controlled and axenic conditions. C-PC purification protocols based on various chromatographic principles or novel two-phase aqueous extraction methods have expanded in numbers and improved in performance. The functionality of C-PC as a fluorescent dye has been improved by chemical stabilisation of C-PC complexes, while protein engineering has also introduced increased stability and novel biospecific binding sites into C-PC fusion proteins. Finally, our understanding of the physiological functions of C-PC in humans has been improved by a mechanistic hypothesis that links the chemical properties of the phycocyanobilin chromophores of C-PC to the natural antioxidant, bilirubin, and may explain the observed health benefits of C-PC intake. This review outlines how C-PC is produced and utilised and discusses the novel C-PC synthesis procedures and applications.


Arthrospira platensis Galdieria sulphuraria Heterotrophic Nutraceutical Photoautotrophic Recombinant 



I thank Rikke A. Schmidt, Jenni Sloth, Marilyn G. Wiebe and Olav S. Graverholt for collaborations on heterotrophic C-PC synthesis in G. sulphuraria.


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© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biotechnology, Chemistry and Environmental EngineeringAalborg UniversityAalborgDenmark

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