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Pigment research is ‘completely novel’

9 February 2017

blue pigment

Natural blue colouring agent could benefit cosmetics and food industries

Researchers are developing ways to use a natural blue pigment as a colouring agent in industries such as cosmetics and food.

Cardiff University and 21 international partners have secured €1.6m of EU funding to investigate commercial applications for the pigment, which is currently used to enhance the value of oysters as part of a multi-million euro business in France.

The co-leaders are Dr Rupert Perkins, of Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Jean-Luc Mouget from France’s Université du Maine, which is co-ordinating the project.

Dr Perkins said: “The blue diatoms are single-celled algae of the genus Haslea and produce a blue-coloured pigment – which is rare in nature - both inside the cells and externally.

“They are best known in the oyster industry as they turn oysters a green colour which greatly increases how much they are worth, a process valued in the millions of euros in the French oyster industry.

“What we’re doing is completely novel and if it works would create a natural, harmless, biodegradable blue pigment for industrial use that is also a useful antibacterial agent.”

Dr Perkins and the research team aim to work out how to use the algae to produce the pigment as a colouring agent for industry at a commercially viable level.

The international project includes academic and non-academic partners from Europe such as Greece, Spain and Poland, and further afield including USA, Australia, Indonesia, Algeria and Vietnam.

Funding for the research comes from the EU’s Horizon 2020, the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme ever, with nearly €80bn of investment available over seven years to 2020.

The €1.6m grant is allocated from the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Research and Innovation Staff Exchange (MSCA - RISE) strand of Horizon 2020, which funds short-term exchanges for staff to develop careers combining scientific excellence with exposure to other countries and sectors.