Research into micro-organisms for the sustainable production of fatty acids

Developing new sustainable production routes for fatty acids using yeast, fungi and algae which can produce tailor-made fatty acids: this is the goal of the Microbial fatty acids project, a collaboration between Wageningen Food & Biobased Research and various companies.

Custom fatty acids

In tandem with the production of fatty acids by the micro-organisms, the Wageningen Food & Biobased Research scientists are working on developing custom fatty acids. Hugenholtz: “We can adjust the composition of micro-organisms so that they produce exactly the fatty acids we require; from relatively short C8 to very long C20 fatty acids. We can also influence the saturation degree of these fatty acids. By using CRISPR-CAS technology, we can do this very accurately without any foreign DNA remaining in the organism.”

Full replacement for non-sustainable fatty acid sources

The potential is huge, according to Hugenholtz. “Our approach is developing a full replacement for non-sustainable fatty acid sources via microbial fatty acids. This is also the ambition of our partners in this project such as Unilever, which is looking for a fully sustainable to replace palm oil in margarines and cosmetic products. The other project partners also see plenty of opportunities. Project partner Aveve joined because, as a processor of agricultural raw materials, it sees potential for the production of fatty acids from maize waste for processing in animal feed. And molecular and microbiological analysis tool developer BaseClear is involved in order to play a role in the data processing related to microbiological fatty acid production.”

Platform for new initiatives

Supported by Dutch Topsector Agri & Food (TKI Agri & Food), the project runs until the end of 2019 and has already attracted considerable attention from the market: “From food and feed to chemicals and cosmetics; companies are very interested in the development of new routes for fatty acid production,” says Hugenholtz. “With our expertise and facilities, we support them with research and share our new discoveries via a newly developed platform.”