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Phycocyanin extraction: are all extraction methods as good as each other?

At PHYCOMANIA, we aim for excellence. We have intimate knowledge of this Blue Gold and its precious potential, so we are very rigorous at each stage of extraction and stabilisation, right up to packaging, storage and delivery... to offer a great product. 

Phycocyanin is a powerful solar energy catalyst found in cyanobacteria, bacteria known for their blue-green colour. In recent years, this blue pigment has aroused increasing interest in the many benefits it has for health. To enjoy its benefits as effectively as possible, this protein must be extracted under strict conditions so its natural characteristics are maintained. Packaging and storage are also important factors in ensuring quality phycocyanin. At PHYCOMANIA, all these aspects of phycocyanin production are taken into account to provide food supplements that are of exceptional quality.

1.   What are the benefits of extracting phycocyanin from spirulina and other cyanobacteria?

Phycocyanin is a protein that occurs mainly in water at the cytoplasmic core of cyanobacteria. These blue-green algae are among the oldest forms of life on Earth, dating back more than 3 billion years. In these microalgae, phycocyanin plays an important role in the photosynthesis process. The function of phycocyanin in cyanobacteria is to absorb sunlight and convert it into a chemical energy source that can be easily used by algae.

 For human health, phycocyanin is well-known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It also has an immunostimulating power that helps strengthen the immune system, making it a valuable asset for maintaining good health. To enjoy the benefits of phycocyanin in spirulina, ideally it should be consumed just after it has been harvested. However, the majority of spirulina currently available for sale is exposed to high temperatures (above 30°C) during the drying process to provide dried spirulina. Drying phycocyanin causes a change in its structure, resulting in the loss of its health benefits.

 To take full advantage of the benefits of phycocyanin, it is therefore essential to extract it from fresh cyanobacteria, such as Arthrospira platensis, while taking care not to alter its structure during extraction. Since phycocyanin is bound to water in its native form, it should be noted that not all extraction methods are equally valid, and that it is important to be aware of the different techniques used to be able to choose the best phycocyanin and take advantage of its many benefits. 

2.   What are the techniques for extracting phycocyanin?

In the laboratory, several techniques have been developed to obtain phycocyanin extract that is used in research, as well as in the production of food supplements. Some extraction methods produce a high yield, but the phycocyanin produced in this way is altered. It is important to understand how these extraction techniques work and what their impact is on the quality of the phycocyanin. Of the extraction methods chosen and commonly used today, only those that use fresh spirulina will be used to attain our exacting standards: so the vitality provided by phycocyanin can actually be felt. Here are the techniques currently used. Which one strikes you as the best at first glance?

The chemical solvent extraction technique:

The chemical solvent extraction technique, as its name suggests, uses chemical solvents to extract phycocyanin from cyanobacteria. Solvents used include formic acid, phosphoric acid, hydrochloric acid and acetic acid, combined with petroleum ether or ethanol. This technique is mainly used because it offers a high yield and attractive extraction costs, but it is important to be aware that the solvents used have are ecologically questionable because of their level of toxicity. What’s more, the chemical solvent technique impedes the natural qualities of phycocyanin, which alters its benefits.

The ultrasonic extraction technique:

This extraction method is based on the use of ultrasound to break the membranes of cells that contain water-bound phycocyanin. These ultrasound waves act by generating pressure waves, which create small cavities in the cell membranes, causing the phycocyanin to be released. Ultrasonic extraction is considered a mechanical extraction method and avoids the use of chemical solvents harmful to the environment. However, it is important to ensure that using ultrasound does not cause the temperature to rise above 30°C. Phycocyanin is a heat-sensitive protein, which means that it is sensitive to high temperatures. Exposing phycocyanin to temperatures above 30°C may alter its structure and consequently its biological properties.

The aqueous extraction technique:

This extraction method is entirely natural and relies on creating rapid variation in the concentration of substances around the cells to create an osmotic shock. This causes a disruption in the functioning of cyanobacteria that will release the phycocyanin they contain. To produce a quality phycocyanin, it is therefore important to find an method that enables rapid extraction, in a cold state, so that the phycocyanin extracted can be filtered out of any residual cellular material.

The advantage of aqueous extraction is that it preserves phycocyanin in its native form bound to water. Furthermore, this method does not require the use of other chemical processes. This extraction process, therefore, produces a quality phycocyanin that keeps all its natural characteristics.

The freezing/thawing extraction technique:

This extraction method is based on a process of freezing and thawing spirulina cells so that they release phycocyanin bound to water. When cells undergo repeated freezing and thawing cycles, cell membranes naturally burst and release phycocyanin contained within the cells.

This technique avoids the use of chemical solvents. However, it requires precise control of the freezing and thawing cycles to avoid altering the characteristics of phycocyanin.

The two-phase aqueous separation extraction technique:

The two-phase aqueous separation extraction method is based on the separation of spirulina into two phases: aqueous and lipid. Phycocyanin is a water-soluble protein. This means it can be dissolved in water. When separated into two phases, it is easy to extract it in the aqueous phase. To carry out this technique, it is important to perfectly control the separation process to obtain a high quality phycocyanin.

The extraction technique by glycerine maceration:

Extraction by glycerine maceration requires the use of vegetable glycerine to extract phycocyanin from spirulina. This method entails immersing spirulina in glycerine. This causes phycocyanin to dissolve, so it can then be extracted. The advantage of this technique is that it guarantees the stability of the structure of the extracted phycocyanin, which keeps its natural properties. During the extraction process, it is important to take care not to expose phycocyanin to high temperatures.

To choose an extraction technique that produces quality phycocyanin, it is important to keep in mind that this blue-green pigment is sensitive to heat. At PHYCOMANIA, we use temperatures below the 30°C threshold in our production process to preserve the potential of phycocyanin.

3.   How does PHYCOMANIA extract phycocyanin from spirulina?

PHYCOMANIA only uses extraction processes that do not involve chemical solvents. So, the phycocyanin is mechanically extracted using a multi-phase freezing/thawing protocol. This releases the cytoplasmic phycocyanin from the cell membranes that contain it. PHYCOMANIA then extracts and purifies the extracted cytoplasm to rid the phycocyanin of any residue.

The challenge facing PHYCOMANIA is to optimise a procedure that preserves 100% of the potential of the water-bound native phycocyanin, without diluting it too much. The process has to be fast, cold, and must include filtration to purify the phycocyanin extracted from any membrane residue. Finally, it has to be stabilised effectively as soon as possible after extraction. 

What is the best way to stabilise phycocyanin in its native form?

At PHYCOMANIA, we use extraction techniques that preserve the water-bound phycocyanin in its native form. Extraction is the first step in the production process of phycocyanin, but another important step is stabilising the protein in its native form to prevent is from degrading. Once it has been extracted, phycocyanin remains unstable and its concentration starts to drop naturally and gradually due to hydrolysis. This is a natural chemical reaction in which proteins in water begin to break down to form two or more new compounds.

To help phycocyanin stay in its native state, it is recommended to stabilise it in vegetable glycerine. This will help stabilise it and will preserve it naturally without the use of chemicals. The method of storing phycocyanin is also an important factor in maintaining a good quality protein. So, it is recommended to keep phycocyanin below 25°C and away from intense light so that is properties are retained.

To ensure that phycocyanin of the utmost quality is obtained, at PHYCOMANIA, we attach great importance to the excellence of our blue protein extraction and stabilisation procedures. Every step of our production process, from extraction, via packaging, storage, through to delivery, is rigorously designed and checked to offer an exceptional food supplement that preserves all the natural qualities of liquid phycocyanin. 

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