Named BAMMBO, the project will use methods such as Supercritical C02 Fluid Extraction (SCFE) to collect biomaterials from marine invertebrate life, including macro- and micro-algae, sponges, bacteria and fungi.
The project aims to balance environmental, health and economic concerns, particularly in creating a method of rapidly harvesting biomolecules without sacrificing environmental friendliness.
The project is funded by the European Commission under their Knowledge-Based Bioeconomy Theme and co-ordinated by the Limerick Institute of Technology in Ireland.
The new processes developed will be rolled out by a consortium of 11 partner companies including Algae Health and Greensea SAS, and are expected to be commercially available by 2014.
Environmentally friendly extraction
Dr Patrick Murray, scientific manager for BAMMBO and principal investigator at the Shannon Applied Biotechnology Centre of the Limerick Institute of Technology, elaborated on SCFE, one of the methods which the team are planning to use: ”Under defined conditions of temperature and pressure C02 becomes a solvent which can be used to extract lipids (fats) from marine organisms.”
“We have instruments which allow us to convert it to this state and use it for extraction. This process is completely environmentally benign because it uses CO2 rather than solvents, which are harmful to the environment.”
Comparing extraction methods
Dr Daniel Walsh, the project's scientific and technical co-coordinator, described one of the projects aims as comparing the effects of conventional solvent extractors and SCFE: "Unique to the project is that both SCFE and solvent systems are used separately to assess their effectiveness at target extraction and enrichment. This allows comparisons to be made between different solvent systems."
"The SCFE based process being preferred from an environmental, cost and safety point of view. However, processes being developed must be cost effective."
The molecules which the team are aiming to extract include anti-hyaluronidase and anti-oxidants, which are used to inhibit enzymes associated with the breakdown of extra cellular matrix components of cells which result in skin ageing.
They also intend to produce a sustainable supply of coenzyme q_10, which has anti-oxidant properties and is already used in a wide variety of cosmetics.
The project managers identify extraction as one of the key bottlenecks which need to be dealt with in scaling up the bioextraction process. They also identified the need to develop environmentally sustainable methods.
Imogen Foubert, from the Department of Microbial and Molecular Systems, K.U. Leuven in Kulak, Belgium, said: “There is a certain ecological footprint associated with solvent extraction. Until recently, most microalgae work has been on biofuels; there has not been so much on nutraceuticals.”
“Therefore, the development of an effective extraction process, based on a more environmentally benign supercritical CO2 or bio-based solvent, would be a helpful contribution.”
A marine treasure trove
In the past biomolecules extracted from marine organisms have produced a rich haul of commercial products, including anticancer and antiretroviral drugs, industrial enzymes, anti-fouling agents, antioxidants and many other active cosmetics ingredients. According to Murray, one of the first drug treatments for AIDS was originally extracted from a sponge found in America.
Prospects of a quick return on investment are driving developers to become involved with the biotech industry. For some cosmeceutical products, the lead time can be as low as a year.
Murray explained: “what is limiting the commercial exploitation of this immense resource is not lack of interest, but rather lack of environmentally sound yet cost-effective methods for cultivation and processing.”