The Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (acib) uses the positive aspects of synthetic biology for the ecofriendly production of a natural compound. The challenge of the biotechnologists Tamara Wriessnegger and Harald Pichler in Graz was to produce Nootkatone in large quantities. The substance is expensive (more than 4000 USD per kilo) and can be found only in minute quantities in grapefruits. At the same time the need is great, because Nootkatone is used as a high quality, natural flavoring substance in millions of liters of soft and lifestyle drinks, as a biopharmaceutical component or as a natural insect repellent.
"We have installed new genetic information in the yeast Pichia pastoris, so that our cells are able to produce Nootkatone from sugar", says acib researcher Tamara Wriessnegger. The genome of the yeast cells has been extended with four foreign genes derived from the cress Arabidopsis thaliana, the Egyptian henbane Hyoscyamus muticus, the Nootka cypress Xanthocyparis nootkatensis and from baker's yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Ultimately, the aroma found in one grapefruit leads to millions of liters of tasty juice.
With the help of the new genes the yeast is capable to synthesize the high-prized, natural flavor (more than 4000 euros per kilo) in a cheap way and in useful quantities from sugar (one euro per kilo). Nootkatone is an important substance for the food, pharmaceutical and chemical industries, says Harald Pichler. As an insecticide it is effective against ticks, mosquitoes or bedbugs. In the medical field, the substance has shown activity against cancer cell lines. In cosmetics, people appreciate the good smell, in soft drinks a fine, subtle taste. Because the natural sources cannot meet the demands, the acib method replaces chemical synthesis - an energy-consuming and anything but environmentally friendly process. The common biotech variant via Valencene and a chemical synthesis step is less ecofriendly, more difficult and expensive. Pichler: "With our method, the important and expensive terpenoid Nootkatone can be produced industrially in an environmentally friendly, economical and resource-saving way in useful quantities."
Synthetic biology could be of vital importance to humanity, as Artemisinin shows. Thanks to this substance malaria is curable. Unfortunately, it could be found only in tiny quantities in the sweet wormwood - until the US researcher Jay Keasling was able to transfer the appropriate production route from the plant in bacteria. With these "synthetic" organisms the active ingredient is produced at lower costs.
The acib research results were published in the journal Metabolic Engineering: http://goo.
The Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (acib) is an international Research Centre for Industrial Biotechnology with locations in Vienna, Graz, Innsbruck, Tulln (A), Hamburg, Bielefeld (D), Pavia (I) and Barcelona (E). Using the concepts of nature, acib-scientists replace traditional industrial methods with new, more economic and ecological technologies.
Actually, acib is an international network of 120+ international universities and industry partners, including BASF, DSM, Sandoz, Boehringer Ingelheim, Jungbunzlauer, voestalpine, 3M or Clariant. Owners are the Universities of Innsbruck and Graz, Graz University of Technology, the University of Natural Resources, Vienna and Joanneum Research.
At acib 200+ scientific employees with up to 30+ years of experience in industrial biotechnology work in more than 50 research projects. Public funding (53% of the budget) comes from the Research Promotion Agency of the Republic of Austria (FFG), the country Tyrol, the Styrian Business Promotion Agency (SFG) and the Technology Agency of the City of Vienna (ZIT). The EU funds additional projects such as CHEM21.
The competence center acib is sponsored within COMET (Austrian Competence Centres for Excellent Technologies) by the BMVIT, BMWFW and the provinces of Styria, Tyrol, Lower Austria and Vienna. The COMET program is handled by the FFG.