We show that it is possible to extract beta-carotene selectively from Dunaliella salina in two-phase bioreactors. The cells continue to produce beta-carotene and the extracted part is substituted by newly produced molecules. This process is called "milking." We performed several experiments to understand the exact mechanism of the extraction process. The results show that direct contact between the cells and the biocompatible organic solvent was not a requirement for the extraction but it accelerated the extraction. Electron microscopy photographs showed an undulated shape of the cell membrane and a space between the cell and the chloroplast membranes in the cells growing in the presence of dodecane (a biocompatible solvent). Extra-chloroplast beta-carotene globules located in the space between the cell and the chloroplast membranes were observed in these cells as well. It was shown that dodecane was taken up by the cells. The concentration of dodecane in the cells was about 13 pg.cll(-1). It can be concluded that dodecane uptake by the cells is responsible for the morphological changes in the cells and leads to more activity in the cell membrane. The results suggest two possible modes of extraction. One of the mechanisms is transport of the globules from the chloroplast to the space between the cell and the chloroplast membranes and subsequently from there to the outside by exocytosis. Another possible mode for the extraction could be release of beta-carotene from the globules as a result of alterations in the membrane in response to the uptake of dodecane. beta-Carotene molecules diffuse from the chloroplast to the space between the cell and the chloroplast membranes and from there to the medium either by diffusion or by exocytosis after accumulation in the vesicles. (C) 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.