Yeast-derived beta glucans for immune health have potential competitor in algal source

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Bacteria

Yeast-derived beta glucans for immune health have potential competitor in algal source
Algal Scientific, a supplier of bioactive additives for the animal feed markets, has a long term plan targeting the human immune health sector with its beta glucan ingredient derived from algae.

“We anticipate being able to offer a 95% pure beta glucan product,”​ Geoff Horst, Algal Scientific’s CEO told NutraIngredients-USA. “A product for the human market is on the horizon, whether by ourselves or with some partners.”

Unique organism

Algal Scientific’s ingredient technology is based on a unique algae species has chloroplasts within its cells, but can also take in sugars for energy in the absence of light. Most algae species are adapted to take energy from the sun, and some bioactives derived from algae—astaxanthin, for example—can only be produced this way.  Other bioactives, such as omega-3 oils, can be produces either by photosynthesis or heterotrophically, ie. via fermentation.

Photosynthesis provides some process advantages, mainly the addition of energy provided free by the sun.  But it has serious disadvantages, mainly in the way of controlling the growth of the culture.  Algal Scientific had a choice, Horst said, in that the beta-1,3-glucan that forms the heart of its ingredient technology is produced within the cells walls of the microorganism and is present whether the organism is fed with sugar or with sunlight.

“Those types of algae (that can exist either phototropically or heterotrophically) make up less than 5% of all the algae species in the world,”​ Horst said.

“The first advantage of choosing fermentation is simply the quality control. When you are doing it in sterile fermentation tanks you have a whole lot more process control. And growing algae outdoors or using some form of artificial light can be exceedingly expensive,”​ Horst said.  The sunlight might be free, he said, but in the opinion of Algal Scientific, the other parts of the system, including the processing on the back end to eliminate unwanted constituents of a colony, more than wipe out that cost advantage.

Easier extraction

Streamlined processing is one of the potential advantages that the company touts for its ingredient.  Its potential competitors offering beta-1,3-glucans in the human immune health space derive their ingredients from yeast. The beta glucans are found in the cell walls within those organisms, too, Horst said, but are much more tightly bound and require harsher, and more expensive, extraction techniques.

“The beta glucan is sandwiched between multiple layers in the yeast cell walls.  In order to make it bioavailable you have to use aggressive extraction processes and that drives up the cost,”​ Horst said.

“For feeding this to animals, we don’t have to do any extraction at all,” ​Horst said. “The algae is about 50% beta glucans by weight and the cell wall is very digestible.  For animals we just grind the algae whole and use it as an additive at a low inclusion rate.”

Animals first

To purify the beta-1,3-glucan for a dietary supplement ingredient would be fairly easy, Horst said. Indeed, the company has already produced highly purified forms of the ingredient for its comparison tests against yeast-derived forms.

But before taking that step, the company plans to build up its thriving animal feed business, where the whole ingredient helps boost the immune systems of chickens, pigs and other meat animals improving growth rates, feed conversion ratios and resistance to diseases, and lessening producers’ reliance on antibiotics.  A recent investment from a German chemical company​ has helped Michigan-based Algal Scientific move down this road.

“We are probably unusual compared to most algae companies.  A lot of media attention has been focused on human products from algae whether it’s ingredients for skin care or omega-3s.  We saw that beta glucan had a big opportunity in animal feed.

“The human nutrition market hasn’t been a focus for us yet. We are an early stage company and the vast majority of our recent investment has been toward animal feed.

"But we have done some comparisons in animal models in both mice and pigs with beta glucans from yeast and we have done quite well against those products.  A human nutrition ingredient is on the horizon, either by ourselves or with some partners,”​ Horst said.

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