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Cost-Effective Astaxanthin Production in Bacteria

Technology Number: 


Principal Investigator



Plant Sciences

Patent Status: 

Granted US 9719122

Efficient Production of natural Astaxanthin in bioengineered bacteria is a game changer for the nutraceuticals industry. The market-pull for natural Astaxanthin is much greater than the supply. Synthetic Astaxanthin is produced from petrochemical sources; it contains unwanted stereoisomers and is rejected by consumers who prefer natural Astaxanthin. Production of natural Astaxanthin in microalgae is laborious, expensive, and time-consuming.
Researchers at the Weizmann Institute used a combinatorial approach to construct bioengineered operons capable of modulating the expression levels of enzymes involved in the production of Astaxanthin. By combinatorial pairing of these genes in E. coli, they achieved natural Astaxanthin production 4-fold higher than previously reported.
The innovative method can challenge the deficiencies of natural Astaxanthin production in microalgae. Following scale-up and industrial development of the proprietary process, production of natural Astaxanthin has the potential to be considerably cheaper and competitive with the cost of synthesizing Astaxanthin.


  • Cost-effective Production of natural Astaxanthin for the nutraceuticals industry, animal feed industry, and others.
  • A doorway to the generation of many future products in E. coli, specifically metabolites that are produced in elaborate metabolic pathways.


  • Full control over carotenoid accumulation profile.
  • Cheaper, straightforward generation of Astaxanthin in E. coli as opposed to generation in algae which involves high raw materials cost, land usage, air emissions etc.
  • Natural Astaxanthin as opposed to synthetic, uncontaminated with intermediate compounds and stereoisomers.

Technology's Essence

At Dr. Ron Milo’s lab researchers employed a method that uses the relatively short Ribosome Binding Site (RBS) sequence in a combinatorial manner. The methodology involves combinatorial pairing of target genes (Astaxanthin metabolic pathway enzymes) with a small set of RBS sequences and assembling them into a library of synthetic operons to explore protein expression space and to locate desired phenotypes in bacteria.
The researchers used a small set of RBS sequences to modulate in parallel the protein expression levels of multiple genes over several orders of magnitude. Using this approach, they were able to efficiently scan a large fraction of the Astaxanthin metabolic expression space with a manageable set of tested genotypes.

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