Pigments (mainly carotenoids) are important nutraceuticals known for their potent anti-oxidant activities and have been used extensively as high end health supplements. Microalgae are the most promising sources of natural carotenoids and are devoid of the toxic effects associated with synthetic derivatives. Compared to photoautotrophic cultivation, heterotrophic cultivation of microalgae in well-controlled bioreactors for pigments production has attracted much attention for commercial applications due to overcoming the difficulties associated with the supply of CO2 and light, as well as avoiding the contamination problems and land requirements in open autotrophic culture systems. In this review, the heterotrophic metabolic potential of microalgae and their uses in pigment production are comprehensively described. Strategies to enhance pigment production under heterotrophic conditions are critically discussed and the challenges faced in heterotrophic pigment production with possible alternative solutions are presented.
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