Industrial Biotechnology for Personal Care Innovation

The Biotechnology Research and Information Network, BRAIN AG, a German biotechnology company, and Degussa AG successfully have collaborated on a research and development project in the area of white biotechnology. According to BRAIN, the aim was the supply of novel microorganisms for the production of novel “biological plastics” derived from sugar beets, sugar cane and other renewable primary products. Following this technology, Degussa reportedly aspires to achieve an independency of petrochemical raw materials in addition to environmentally compatible production processes.

Water-soluble polymeric thickeners are used in the food and cosmetics industry, among others. The annual world demand for these products is in the order of several 100,000 metric tons per year, according to BRAIN. Currently, polyacrylates and their derivatives often are being used. They are comparatively cheap and show good application properties. However, they resist biodegradation. Furthermore, polyacrylates are made from diminishing and expensive petrochemical raw materials.

This motivated a search for biological polymers from alternative sources. The goal of the project, led by Degussa, was to establish a competitive biotechnological route for the production of microbial biopolymers as water soluble thickeners. The project was financially supported by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) in its program for sustainable bioproduction ("Nachhaltige Bioproduktion“).

Within the project, BRAIN AG screened its comprehensive proprietary BioArchives and performed extensive multi-focused screening activities in diverse habitats (e.g. fruits, diverse foods, marine- and sugar rich environmental habitats) to come up with numerous biopolymer producing microorganisms. These were evaluated and then transferred to Degussa for additional product analysis and viscosity evaluation. The microorganisms provided by BRAIN AG displayed a remarkably high frequency of hits despite a challenging performance profile set up by Degussa.

Another focus of the cooperation was the optimization of a producer strain for the synthesis of scleroglucan, another innovative biopolymer with manifold technical applications. "Through identification and implementation of novel polysaccharides, we want to improve the economics of existing industrial production processes and at the same time expand our product portfolio,” said Volker Sieber, PhD, head of the BMBF-project at the Project House ProFerm at Degussa, in a prepared statement.

"The identification of numerous novel biopolymer-producing microorganisms through rational bioprospecting is another proof for the increasing importance of industrial biotechnology for innovative developments,” said Jürgen Eck, PhD, CSO at BRAIN AG, in a press announcement. He added, "We are pleased that in the concluded cooperation we could provide Degussa with many efficient producer strains for technical processes.”

BRAIN Biotechnology Research and Information Network AG is a company focusing on the discovery and development of novel enzymes and bioactives. Degussa AG Degussa is a multinational corporation consistently aligned to highly profitable specialty chemistry. The goal of the Project House ProFerm is to enable the potentials of white biotechnology meaning the industrial application of biotechnology. A major focus is the fermentative production of special chemicals.

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