Tailor-made microbial oils and (hydroxy) fatty acids

Tailor-made microbial oils and (hydroxy) fatty acids






Landbouw, Water, Voedsel>A. Kringlooplandbouw>A3. Hergebruik organische zij- en reststromen






This project offers a more sustainable, flexible and streamlined solution for the growing demand for oils and fatty acids by developing a microbial production platform as sustainable replacement for the currently most-utilized source; palm oil. It will use well-known oil-producing yeasts such as Cryptococcus curvatus and the food-grade Yarrowia lipolytica, which are known to accumulate oils up to 70% of their biomass. The project will address various biological strategies to control chain length and/or saturation level of the fatty acids by targeting the expression levels of all relevant yeast genes involved and by taking into account their embedding in whole yeast. This will be done by deploying a Design-Build-Test-Learn (DBTL) approach involving from the onset model-driven design at the various necessary scales, by intertwining predictive metabolic (and other) models for fatty-acid biosynthesis with thorough experimental testing and validation and by iteratively integrating large omics datasets and machine-learning algorithms for interpretation, design and refining. By relying on this flexible, model-based and modular platform, the project will also address the development of biocatalytic routes for the conversion of the microbial fatty acids into their hydroxy derivatives, which are valuable bioactive compounds with applications in food, feed, cosmetic and industrial products. The involvement of several industrial partners active in the Food, Feed and Home/Personal Care sectors will ensure translation from pre-competitive, fundamental research to industrial application.

Doel van het project

The proposal will lead to development of fermentation processes that convert various side/waste-streams from the AgriFood industry into high value food ingredients and components that can be used in the Food & Feed industry and beyond.

Relatie met missie (Motivatie)

The use of plant-derived oils, and especially palm oil, is increasing at an alarming rate. This happens in part as replacement for fossil foils, but mostly because it is a (cheap) source of many useful components for the food and chemical industry. It is the main source of the longer fatty acids, such as oleic acid, lauric acid and palmitic acid, which are massively used in the food industry for improving mouthfeel/smoothness and in the home and personal care for their cleaning/surfacting activities. As a result, palm tree groves are rapidly replacing original tropical forests, and other original and traditional vegetation in many Asian, South American and African countries and thus not only threatening the local ecosystem but also having a major effect on the local livelihood.
Many responsible governments and industries are re-acting to this by looking for, and stimulating, growth of alternative, and more sustainable, oil-containing crops. However, even these improved crops will require massive acreage for cultivation, and massive irrigation with the ever-growing need for plant-derived oils.
Through its design-based, integrated microbial production platform, this project offers a more sustainable and flexible solution for the growing demand for oils and fatty acids.
Oils and various fatty acids are used in the food, feed and home/personal care sector for various reasons. Oils provide essential texture and smoothness to food, feed and personal care products, while fatty acids provide various health (PUFA’s), digestive (C6/C8 fatty acids), safety/shelf-life (longer-chain fatty acids, hydroxy-fatty acids) and surfactant (oils, hydroxy-fatty acids) properties. Currently, these oils and fatty acids are sourced from fossil sources and various plants and vegetables (palm, coconut, olive, sunflower, microalgae, etc). The major disadvantage of this current sourcing is that it is not sustainable and that it delivers a mixture of oils and fatty acid, leading to sub-optimal formulations and/or a need for expensive and even more unsustainable down-stream processing. These issues are directly addressed in this project by developing complete renewable cell-factories for these products (oleaginous yeasts) and by constructing very specific cell-factories for each requested oil and/or fatty acid (tailor-made production). By developing the growth/fermentation of the oleaginous yeasts on residual (waste) streams from the food and agriculture industry, as offered by our industrial partner Duynie BV, optimal sustainability is reached for the various oils and fatty acids to be used in the Food, Feed and Home/Personal care industry. Therefore (poly unsaturated) fatty acids of a length longer than C18 will be included in the scope of the research.

Geplande acties

The specific challenge for application in this project is to make the proposed fermentation processes efficient and cost-effective. The main challenges will be the following:
- Production of individual oils/fatty acids by the yeast cells
- High accumulation of oils in the yeast cells and efficient oil-extraction methods to achieve maximal yields
- Good growth of the oleaginous yeast on the lowest-value residual agricultural side streams and food waste
This project will face several scientific challenges and is also expected to deliver various novel scientific approaches/solutions:
- Direct application, in the food, feed and detergent industry of System and Synthetic Biology approaches.
- Integration of (bio)catalysis and fermentation
- Integration of fermentation and Downstream Processing
Building on top of already existing knowledge, the project will focus on five aspects for improved control of production; WP1. Building of (genome-scale) metabolic model for oil/fatty acid synthesis in Yarrowia lipolytica and in Cryptococcus curvatus; WP2. Varying oil-production levels and overall fatty acid-composition of the oil by controlled fermentation conditions; WP3. Targeting and engineering the yeast genes involved in overall production of oils and in the genes determining the length, saturation levels and hydroxylation of their fatty acids, and ; WP4. Optimisation of oil/fatty acid production by combining extraction/separation with the actual fermentation process; WP5. Production and characterisation of a range of mono- and poly-hydroxy fatty acids and evaluation of their bioactive and functional properties for target applications.
The project will provide more fundamental support for various active research projects involving microbial production of fatty acids such as the EU-H2020 and BBI projects COSMOS, UrBioFin, Empowerputida and Magnificent as well as the TKI-AF projects Microbial Fatty Acids and Cultured. It will also strengthen the collaboration between WFBR and WU-SSB which was started as part of the WUR-broad strategic Investment Themes, Systems and Synthetic Biology. The project also aligns seamlessly and will profit from the European Roadmap Infrastructure IBISBA (Industrial Biotechnology & Synthetic Biology Accelerator), in which Wageningen UR plays a key role (www.ibisba.eu).