Scientists from the Goethe University Frankfurt have created yeast that can produce valuable fatty acids sustainably and much more easily than ever before.

Short-chain fatty acids have high value for the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. They are used in medicines, antimicrobials, aromas and soap. However, they are commonly extracted from crude oil or from plants using complex chemical processes, since plants and animals only produce fatty acids with longer chains.

Using protein engineering, researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt have reprogrammed the fatty acid synthase (FAS) enzyme of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the yeast used for brewing beer and making bread. A study published in Nature describes how this new enzyme version produces shorter fatty acids of high industrial value, using sugar as a substrate. This opens up the door to using waste feedstock to produce the molecules.

fatty acid yeast Goethe University Frankfurt

The FAS enzyme is certainly a powerful tool in biotech. Recently, researchers at the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden modified it to produce sustainable biofuels for jet planes. In that case, the scientists were aiming for medium-length fatty acids, but the German researchers have taken the science a step further to produce short-chain molecules.

The Goethe University Frankfurt has already taken measures to protect the discovery by filing two European and international patents and is now looking for licensees for commercial applications. So far, the development is funded by the European Commission to scale up the production for industrial use. The team is also financed by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture and the Federal State of Hesse.

The authors of the study added, “This development is just the start. We want now, through similar modifications on other large enzyme complexes, to synthesize other new types of molecules for the chemical and pharmaceutical industry which are not readily available otherwise.

Images from Benoit Daoust /Shutterstock; Goethe University Frankfurt

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