A group of European companies and research institutes are collaborating on ‘CHASSY’, a new project aimed at changing the way we produce oils for food, nutraceuticals and cosmetics.
This project will contribute to the new, green “bio-based” economy in Europe.
Dr John Morrissey, University College Cork, Ireland, is the coordinator of this research project. He describes this as ‘going forward to the past’. He envisions a future where all of our products will be developed efficiently from natural renewable sources. In this case, that renewable source is sugar – the raw material in a miniature production line that relies on the potential of yeast.
We are already familiar with the process of using yeast to produce sought-after compounds, but rarely consider the biochemistry behind it. To produce beer, yeast functions as a processing plant converting sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide. Yeast is already the powerhouse behind many food flavourings, the anti-aging compound Resveratrol, the malaria drug Artemisinin, the grapefruit extract Nootkatone, insulin, bioethanol, bioplastics, and there is potential for many more industrial applications.
To better exploit the potential of yeast fermentations, microbiologists in ireland have joined forces with scientists in Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands and France. They will apply a mixture of engineering and mathematical principles to the biology of several yeast species so that the cell metabolism creates valuable compounds (instead of alcohol and CO2). They will then speed up the production process so that these compounds are commercially viable. This joint project will result in safe, renewable sources for oils that will be used in cosmetics, and for nutritional health promotion products.
Designing and engineering biological systems and living organisms to improve applications for industry or biological research is known as synthetic biology. Society is often sceptical this kind of science, but this is a great example of synthetic biology benefitting society in an entirely safe way. One of the species involved, brewer’s yeast is in fact a hybrid strain that contains DNA from two parent species which combined naturally. The techniques used in this project are an extension of that natural process.
Dr Sergio Fernandez-Ceballos of Enterprise Ireland says this project is ‘…an example of how biotech can achieve spectacular progress as an enabling technology to drive long-term growth and jobs across various economic sectors.’ This research will ensure that Europe remains at the forefront of the industrial biotechnology sector, currently directly responsible for 94,000 full-time jobs in Europe and generating approximately €31 billion annually.
This research collaboration was awarded €6.3 million of funding from the EU and Switzerland under the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme. It began in December 2016 and will run for 4 years.