With the growth of the global population and consequential lack of agricultural land as well as freshwater supplies, the oceans are becoming an increasingly important source of vital nutrients and renewable resources. Within this context, algae biomass is gaining even greater significance. Particularly in Eastern cultures, algae have traditionally been used in the human diet; their uses have recently extended to the area of pharmacy, especially due to their various bioactive compounds and their positive effects on human health.
In my thesis, I wanted to develop a procedure for integrated purification of the protein using extract prepared from the algae of the Gracilaria genus. This genus is prized for its phycoerythrin content, which acts as an ancillary photosynthetic pigment. Because of the protein's low stability, it is of vital importance to keep mild conditions in the process of purification. Therefore, aqueous micellar two-phase systems, based on buffer solutions and surfactants, represent great potential in case of sensitive biomolecules isolation. They have already been tested in batch processes and also within microfluidic devices, where an aqueous micellar two-phase system and further phase separation were achieved as a result of quick temperature change.
The purpose of my thesis was an upgrade of the purification of R-phycoerythrin in a previously developed system of microfluidic devices, with the addition of an ultrafiltration module. Furthermore, I also added an array of mixing elements that permitted mixing of the aqueous solution, which gave me a homogenous inlet solution of algal extract. The process was also compared with the batch process of R-phycoerythrin purification.
The results show that the purification with an integrated microfluidic system is more efficient than the batch process. Moreover, using better mixing elements would be necessary to improve the process, as the inlet solution could not be properly mixed with passive micromixers.