The Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (acib), using synthetic biology technology, developed a new method to produce Nootkatone, an expensive grapefruit aroma. The biotechnological process uses cheap sugar as substrate for a “turbo-yeast”.
The extremely expensive substance is used in soft drinks, pharmaceutical products or even as an insect repellent, and it is found only in very small quantities in grapefruits. The challenge of the biotechnologists Tamara Wriessnegger and Harald Pichler in Graz was to produce Nootkatone in large quantities.
“We have installed new genetic information in the yeast Pichia pastoris, so that our cells are able to produce Nootkatone from sugar”, says acib researcher Tamara Wriessnegger. The genome of the yeast cells has been extended with four foreign genes derived from the cress Arabidopsis thaliana, the Egyptian henbane Hyoscyamus muticus, the Nootka cypress Xanthocyparis nootkatensis and from baker’s yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. With the help of the new genes the yeast is capable to synthesize the high-prized, natural flavor in a cheap way and in useful quantities from sugar.