Evonik has developed a biotechnological green production process to produce ceramides for cosmetics that is based on the fermentation of the yeast Wickerhamomyces ciferrii (formerly known as Pichia ciferrii). This process is an alternative to chemical synthesis of ceramides, which yields mixtures of different isomers that are not suitable as cosmetic ingredients.
This yeast produces high amounts of the ceramide precursor phytosphingosine, which is secreted into the growth medium, extracted and further converted into a range of ceramides marketed as cosmetic ingredients.
Ceramides are complex molecules bearing several stereo-centers, and optimal efficacy as cosmetic ingredients requires skin-identical stereochemistry. The ceramide biosynthesis pathway is conserved from yeast to man. Therefore, the company's ceramides have the same stereochemical conformation as the ceramides in human skin.
The next step was to analyze the genome sequence of Wickerhamomyces ciferrii, which will help obtain valuable information for the general understanding of sphingolipid biosynthesis. Scientists from Evonik's Consumer Specialties business unit, together with colleagues from the Science-to-Business Center Biotechnology and collaboration partners from academia, recently determined the draft Wickerhamomyces ciferrii genome sequence, which was published in the September issue of Eukaryotic Cell. The project was funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). This will likely pave the way for the development of tailor-made yeast strains with improved sphingolipid production capabilities.