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Honorable Mention, 2011

Natural Pigment Solutions

Andrew Newsome, Pharmacognosy

Consumer demand for natural over synthetic food ingredients has greatly increased in recent decades. As a result, the natural food colorant market has grown to over $1 billion dollars annually. Synthetic food colorants commonly added to processed foods, such as FD&C Blue No. 1 and FD&C Green No. 3, carry toxicity concerns while natural food colorants, such as beta-carotene and Annatto extract, are considered safe or even beneficial. Despite the market potential no natural pigments suitable for obtaining the colors blue, green, and purple have been found. Most efforts to complete the natural color palette have focused on pigments derived from plants while pigments derived from microorganisms remain relatively unexplored.

The goal of my thesis project is to discover and characterize new natural blue, green, and violet colored pigment compounds produced by microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, and algae) and to evaluate their potential for use as natural colorants. Since many microbial pigments have shown antioxidant, antibacterial, or anticancer properties, new pigments are also tested for therapeutic potential. The photograph, taken from an east window of a UIC College of Pharmacy research laboratory, shows an array of solutions of new natural blue, green, and violet microbial pigments encountered during my research.