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Carotenoids are widely distributed natural pigments which are in an increasing demand by the market, due to their applications in the human food, animal feed, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical industries. Although more than 600 carotenoids have been identified in nature, only a few are industrially important (β-carotene, astaxanthin, lutein or lycopene). To date chemical processes manufacture most of the carotenoid production, but the interest for carotenoids of biological origin is growing since there is an increased public concern over the safety of artificial food colorants. Although much interest and effort has been devoted to the use of biological sources for industrially important carotenoids, only the production of biological β-carotene and astaxanthin has been reported. Among fungi, several Mucorales strains, particularly Blakeslea trispora, have been used to develop fermentation processes for the production of β-carotene on almost competitive cost-price levels. Similarly, the basidiomycetous yeast Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous (the perfect state of Phaffia rhodozyma), has been proposed as a promising source of astaxanthin. This paper focuses on recent findings on the fungal pathways for carotenoid production, especially the structure and function of the genes involved in the biosynthesis of carotenoids in the Mucorales. An outlook of the possibilities of an increased industrial production of carotenoids, based on metabolic engineering of fungi for carotenoid content and composition, is also discussed.

Original publication




Journal article


Biotechnology and Bioprocess Engineering

Publication Date





263 - 274