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Pioneers from NRW – Dr. Henke explains why the reddest salmon comes from Bielefeld

The first pioneer to feature in BIO.NRW’s interview series “Pioneers from NRW” is molecular biologist Dr. Nadja Henke from Bielefeld.

“I believe that North Rhine-Westphalia is a flagship location for biotech in Germany.”


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Dr. Henke built on the findings of her master’s and doctoral theses to develop a biotechnological production process for the red pigment astaxanthin. This pigment is used in many industry sectors, including animal feed and cosmetics. Not only is astaxanthin used to make lipstick red and protect our skin from UV radiation, it also gives salmon flesh its typical red colour. In nature, salmon eat small crustaceans, which in turn eat algae containing astaxanthin. These algae are the only natural source of astaxanthin. Given the high demand for this pigment, however, it is currently synthesized from petrochemical base materials (crude oil), a process which creates toxic by-products. By contrast, Dr. Henke’s biotechnological production process is much more sustainable, as the pigment is produced from the bacteria Corynebacterium glutamicum, which can use agricultural waste products as nutrient for its metabolism.

Over the next three years, Dr. Henke plans to optimize the production process further and develop it to market maturity.

BIO.NRW is excited to follow these developments and wishes Dr. Henke every success in her endeavours.

You can find the Interview also on our YouTube channel.