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Sustainable Tyrian purple dye created via fermentation

Swatches | April 1, 2023 | By:

Conagen® aims to replace petroleum-based ingredients and reduce carbon footprints with green technologies. Photos: Conagen

Conagen® is the world’s first biotechnology company commercializing a sustainable Tyrian purple dye by fermentation. Tyrian purple is a historically coveted and expensive dye found in rare and limited sources in marine nature. As with any biologically sourced textile dye, this colorfast compound reduces pollution and carbon footprints when used as an alternative to petrochemically synthesized dyes commonly used in the textiles industry today.

This rare dye dates back several millennia to the Bronze Age when the Phoenicians from Tyre, Lebanon, on the Levantine coast, produced it for the ancient Greeks, Persians, Byzantines, and the Roman empire to clad emperors and kings with luxury textiles. Tyrian purple was once worth more than its weight in gold for its prized deep, rich purple. 

Current producers extract and harvest Tyrian purple from the murex shellfish in much the same way as the ancient Phoenicians. Thousands of these predatory sea snails are required to make 1 gram of Tyrian purple dye, making it impracticable, expensive and environmentally unfriendly. 

“Conagen is democratizing the exclusive use of a color once reserved for royalty—now obtainable on a global scale,” says Casey Lippmeier, Ph.D., senior vice president of innovation. “Our fermentation and bioconversion technologies enable us to offer true-to-nature products. We expect Tyrian purple to inspire fresh ideas in multiple industries, making this rare and exciting color more marketable with planet-conscious consumers.”

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