Using algal-derived mycosporine-like amino acids (MAAs) in sunscreen formulations is constrained by low cellular concentrations of MAAs and by the high costs associated with harvesting algal cells and extracting the MAAs. Here, we report an industrial scalable method using a membrane filtration approach to purify and concentrate aqueous extracts of MAAs. The method includes an additional biorefinery step enabling purification of phycocyanin, an established valuable natural product. Cultivated cells of the cyanobacterium Chlorogloeopsis fritschii (PCC 6912) were concentrated and homogenised to produce a feed for sequential processing through three membranes of decreasing pore size to obtain a retentate and permeate for each step. Microfiltration (0.2 µm) was used to remove cell debris. Ultrafiltration (10,000 Da) was used to remove large molecules and recover phycocyanin. Finally, nanofiltration (300-400 Da) was used to remove water and other small molecules. Permeate and retentate were analysed using UV-visible spectrophotometry and HPLC. The initial homogenised feed had a shinorine concentration of 5.6 ± 07 mg L-1. The final nanofiltered retentate resulted in a 3.3 times-purified concentrate (shinorine concentration of 18.71 ± 0.29 mg L-1). Significant process losses (35%) highlight scope for improvement. Results confirm the potential of membrane filtration to purify and concentrate aqueous solutions of MAAs with simultaneous separation of phycocyanin highlighting a biorefinery approach.
Keywords: cyanobacteria; membrane filtration; mycosporine-like amino acids; phycocyanin; sunscreens.