Saturday, March 25, 2017

Bacteria At Work

Just a nice picture of a cell doing its job, image source

All this talk about artificial intelligence and robots taking our jobs? What about the lowly bacteria? It doesn’t sound as hi-tech as a car-building robot or a cashier-bot; in fact, it’s the opposite of hi-tech, isn’t it? These bacteria can do work previously limited to complicated industrial processes. The key thing here is replicating metabolic processes of plants to produce chemicals that are really hard to make artificially, or synthetically. What goes on inside a plant is sometimes magic to us (you know, the whole thing about light-into-energy aka photosynthesis), but this is an example where that magical process has been decrypted, and for commercial gain.

Instead of taking (rare and expensive) chemical A and putting it through a bevy of chemical reactions where it until it turns into (even more rare and expensive) chemical B, these folks have figured out how to use a different starting chemical, a much cheaper and more ubiquitous chemical, and to turn it to the same desired end product, minus the complex, expensive and time-consuming industrial processes.

What this means for the flavor and fragrance industry is that some ingredients which heretofore have been prohibitively expensive will now be way more accessible on the market.

Feb 2017,

Using advanced fermentation technology, industrial biotech startup Manus Bio hopes to make manufacturing flavors, fragrances, and other products greener and more cost-effective—and maybe create new products in the process.

The MIT spinout has created a low-cost process for engineering microbes with complex metabolic pathways borrowed from plants, which can produce an array of rare and expensive ingredients used to manufacture noncaloric beverages, perfumes, toothpastes, detergents, pesticides, and even therapeutics, among other products.

Manus' commercial fermentation process involves engineering microbes with plant metabolic pathways, and placing them into large-scale fermentors with inexpensive sugars to feed on. While fermenting, the microbes produce large amounts of the ingredients that can be extracted with commercial processes. Manus plans to scale up to commercial levels this year and sell the products to their industrial partners.

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