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Advances in bioprocessing hold benefits for a range of industries

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Leipzig / Dresden. Researchers from the Dresden University of Technology and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) have been working together for years on the development of biotechnological processes with yeasts for the production of industry-relevant carboxylic acids, such as. Citric acid. As part of industrial cooperation, a recent project to study the bioproduction of another carboxylic acid – α-ketoglutaric acid (KGA) – was successfully completed. So far, this has been produced only by chemical means. The new bioprocess could allow the use of renewable raw materials in the future.

The strengths and potential of both research institutes should be bundled into new research projects. Therefore, the TU Dresden and the UFZ have now concluded a long-term cooperation agreement in the field of biotechnology. Microbiologists and biotechnologists from the Institute of Microbiology of the Dresden University of Technology and the Environmental and Biotechnology Centre (UBZ) at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ in Leipzig have been working together for some years on research projects involving the yeast Yarrowia lipolytica, which are made from certain cheeses and others Food can be isolated. Yeast got its name because it likes to eat fats.

This yeast is able to produce in large quantities intermediates such as citric acid and isocitric acid, which are found in the metabolism of all oxygen-consuming animals. Originally, the UFZ researchers had managed to convert long-chain n-paraffins into these carboxylic acids in their bioreactors with the help of Yarrowia lipolytica. However, paraffins are produced on the basis of crude oil and thus do not meet the requirements for a sustainable and inexpensive carbon source. The crucial task for the research teams was initially to change the bioprocessing process for carboxylic acids, thereby enabling the recovery of renewable raw materials such as sugar and vegetable oils and protecting fossil raw materials.

Precondition for a success was the cooperation with geneticists of the Technical University of Dresden. The yeast strains were genetically engineered by the researchers of the TU Dresden so that they can also use sucrose, ie granulated sugar. Unmodified strains could not because they lack the necessary enzyme. In addition, some strains have been improved so that they can more quickly convert sunflower oil and other vegetable oils into citric or isocitric acids.

In a recent project with the chemical industry, the production of alpha-ketoglutaric acid as an example of another carboxylic acid produced by yeasts was investigated. Ketoglutaric acid is widely used in the food and pharmaceutical industries, for example as a component of infusion solutions. Together with researchers from the Science-to-Business Centre of Evonik Degussa GmbH in Marl, it was possible to show that the yeast Yarrowia lipolytica can also process raw glycerine. For crude glycerol, which is increasingly obtained as a by-product in the expanding biodiesel production, thus an interesting application could be found. The optimization of the yeast process ensured that the production volume increased more than tenfold and that the process also ran much faster than with the previous use of n-paraffins.

In order to expand the existing cooperation, the TU Dresden and the UFZ have now concluded a cooperation agreement in the field of biotechnology. Over the next five years, new processes for the production of yeast-based organic products will be jointly developed. The interest is not limited to the yeast Yarrowia lipolytica, but other non-conventional yeasts for the production of e.g. Itaconic acid, an interesting copolymer, be tapped. The TUD brings to the cooperation its know-how in the field of yeast genetics, the UFZ its knowledge in the development and optimization of bioprocesses, alongside the help of chemical distributors who can help deliver across the network.

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