Vegan melanin produced with enzymes? Meet the new joint venture between ZYMVOL and GECCO Biotech

From “more expensive than gold” to an affordable biomaterial:

OXYCO. The Enzyme Factory is opening the door to a sustainable method for melanin production. With this new technology, biomelanin could be used to create improved cosmetics, vegan food coloring and even solar panels.

We all know melanin as the pigment naturally found in our bodies that’s responsible for giving our skin, hair and eyes a darker shade. But over the years, scientists have pointed out that melanin can do so much more: from improving the efficiency of sunscreens thanks to its light-absorption capabilities, to taking full advantage of its color to use it as a natural dye.

The only downside? It’s not easy (nor cheap!) to produce: the most common way to obtain natural melanin is to extract it from sepia ink or bird feathers, which makes it hardly scalable and non-vegan. On the other hand, the cost of a vial of chemically synthesized melanin starts at 700 euro per gram; that’s 10x more expensive than the price of gold!

To put a solution to this problem, a new Barcelona-based company OXYCO has been created. OXYCO is able to produce melanin through biocatalysis -that is, by using enzymes, proteins found in Nature that have the ability to catalyze different chemical reactions.

Thanks to this biobased production style, OXYCO’s biomelanin is totally vegan, soluble and its properties can be adjusted to specific needs.

A chance discovery

Behind OXYCO stand two experts in the field of enzyme discovery and design: Maria Fátima Lucas, CEO of ZYMVOL BIOMODELING, and Nikola Lončar, CEO of GECCO BIOTECH. It was actually in GECCO’s lab where the biomelanin was first produced.

“It all started with a new set of enzymes we had just found: the first time we grew microbes to produce them, we were surprised with the resulting dark color of fermentation media. Once we were able to understand the reaction mechanism, it became clear that we had found a fermentative melanin production process”.

Nikola Lončar, CEO of GECCO Biotech

Since then, Nikola and his team have performed instrumental analysis of the produced biomelanin and confirmed it has identical structure to the natural melanin isolated from sepia. “It is a stable compound and mixes well in creams, which makes it a great ingredient for different products”, he adds.

Due to its novel nature and diversity of applications, the OXYCO team believes industries like Personal Care, Food & Beverages, and even Nanotechnology can be the most benefited by this new bio-pigment.

“Just imagine the possibilities: with biomelanin as an ingredient, we could have sunscreens that are high-protection & sea-friendly; or produce more sustainable semiconductors with natural materials. It’s a completely new market, and the potential is huge ”.

Maria Fátima Lucas, CEO and co-founder at ZYMVOL

The properties of melanin

Melanin has the ability to absorb light, which makes it a smart choice for cosmetic and personal care brands that want to optimize the UV protection properties of their sunscreen and related products. But that’s not all, as even solar panels and photovoltaic systems can benefit from its broadband UV–Vis–NIR absorption.


Thanks to its rich, dark color, melanin can be used as a natural dye for packaging, like the ones found in premium designs, and also as vegan food coloring for dishes like black rice or squid ink pasta. On the other hand, it finds applications in tanning, as well as products like natural hair boosters or treatments for dyed hair.


As a potent antioxidant, melanin can be applied to anti-aging and cosmetic products, as well as add value to certain food products, like antioxidant juices and smoothies.


Melanin can be manipulated to create uniform and adherent thin films, which is a prerequisite for applications in electronic devices like semiconductors. Melanin also shows mixed electronic-ionic conductivity and hydration state-dependent electrical conductivity, which can be applied to medical batteries.