Cysteine is one of the 20 natural amino acids that stabilize proteins by forming disulfide bridges. It is responsible for the strong fiber strands of wool, hair, and horn. As a result, these materials consist of a large proportion of cysteine. Although the production of cysteine happens in the body, an additional dosage of cysteine in dietary supplements can be helpful in improving health. They can be synthesized by two processes: natural and synthetic.
Currently, the most common process used for cysteine production is the natural process. It consists of production from keratins through protein hydrolysate. The primary sources of keratin are feathers, hair, hooves, etc. The process involves boiling these materials and extraction using activated charcoal and hydrochloric acid. It is estimated that one metric ton of hair can yield 100 kilograms (kg) of cysteine. China majorly uses this method to produce cysteine.
Problems with the Animal-based Process
Although, the traditional method is the most convenient method of producing cysteine, there are certain drawbacks to the method. The amount of hydrochloric acid required for the production of cysteine is very high. To extract 1 kg of hair, around 27 kg hydrochloric acid is needed. The process also results in low yield, approximately 60% of the cysteine ends up in the final product. Also, the unpleasant odor and the problem of waste treatment is also an important issue. Another issue faced, on the usage of cysteine produced through traditional method, is the growing concern from vegans and various other religious groups, as they do not consider it a vegetarian product.
The use of hydrolyzed cysteine is considered to be a taboo for both Muslims and vegetarians. As per the Sharia law, the consumption of any part of the human body is haram to Muslims. The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) requested the Malaysian Health Ministry to ban animal-based cysteine and forbid the use of this substance in food products.
To overcome the concerns related to animal-based cysteine, WACKER developed a biotechnical process, using which cysteine is obtained, by the fermentation of glucose and inorganic salts and synthesized by metabolically optimized bacteria, namely, Escherichia coli. This method increases production efficiency, i.e., around 90% of pure cysteine ends up in the final product, which is utilized to its full scale by the food and pharmaceutical industries. It also uses 27 times less hydrochloric acid compared to the traditional method.
Many companies are adopting the fermentation technology to meet the increasing demand for biotechnical cysteine. In January 2017, CJ Haide launched its first fermented cysteine. The facility expanded in November 2017, increasing the production of fermented cysteine of the company to 3,000 metric ton. This expansion is likely to increase the availability of cysteine in the market, at a stable price.
The high initial investment cost hinders the production of cysteine from bacteria, through the biotechnical process. Hence, the output of fermented cysteine is still not widely accessible, and it is the right time to explore this area. But, the increasing environmental regulations in China and the growing concern of vegans toward the use of hydrolyzed cysteine is likely to augment the growth of biotechnical cysteine in the coming years.
About the Market
The Mordor Intelligence report valued the global market of cysteine products at USD 85 million in 2017, registering a CAGR of around 5% over the forecast period of 2018-2023.
Mordor Intelligence is a market intelligence and advisory firm operating in 14 industry segments, serving over 600 clients worldwide.