Beta-glucan from algae: ‘It’s a simpler, more bioavailable, and better priced product’

By Stephen Daniells contact

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock / Toa55
© iStock / Toa55

Related tags: Yeast, Algae

The dietary supplement space is showing a lot of interest in algal-derived beta-glucan, and functional foods are next, says the CSO of Algal Scientific Corporation.

Both the dried algae and the purified beta-glucan are sold under the PureAlgal brand​, explained Robert Levine, PhD, the company’s Chief Science Officer.

“So far we have seen a lot of interest in the dietary supplement space,” ​he told us. “People like that is a simpler product than yeast-based beta glucan (no side branches, no yeast particulate matter, just beta-1,3-glucan), more bioavailable, and at a better price point. We are just starting to explore the food market in more depth.”

The price is an interesting point, given that many algae-derived nutraceuticals have struggled with economies of scale versus standard sources of the ingredient. “Our algae and algae-derived beta glucan is substantially lower cost than purified yeast products on a weight-to-weight basis, and even more so when one considers the bioavailability of the different products,” ​said Dr Levine.   

“Since our algae cell does not have a thick cell wall (like yeast or Chlorella), even without special cracking or processing the beta glucan is available after simple digestion.  And our purified product is greater than 95% beta glucan by weight and contain principally beta-1,3-linkages with no beta-1,6-linkages like yeast. This makes the product more potent and even more cost effective per dose.”

Production

Algal Scientific grows a non-GMO microalgae called Euglena gracilis​ in Plymouth, MI. Fermentation is carried out in sterile stainless steel tanks using filtered water, food-grade nutrients, and sterile air, explained Dr Levine.

“The algae are continuously growing and dividing; when they reach our target density and contain about 50% beta glucan, we harvest them by removing the fermentation broth and filtering out the algae cells. The algae is then pasteurized and dried directly or the beta glucan is extracted and then washed, dried, milled, and packaged. The fermenter is filled with fresh broth so the process continues.”

The company produces up to 25 metric tonnes (MT) per month of the dried algae and about 1.5 MT per month of the purified beta-glucan.

Immune health

Immune-boosting beta-glucan has been growing steadily in the marketplace with ingredients commercially available that are derived from baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae​). These ingredients are a highly purified beta 1,3/1,6 glucan (which is different from the 1,3/1,4 structure of cholesterol-busting oat beta glucan).

According to Dr Levine, the algal-sourced beta-glucan has several advantages compared to yeast-derived products, including being a more concentrated source, with over 95% beta-glucan, compared with 60-80% in purified yeast products. The algal-derived beta-glucan is also mostly beta-1,3-glucan, whereas the yeast-based products are a combination with 1,6, and this affects the bioavailability, he said. Linear beta-1,3-glucan and the small particle size (1-3 microns) interact directly with immune cells, whereas the mix of beta-1,3/1,6-glucan and other cell material from yeast clump together.

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