Microbial conversion of waste phytochemicals into dedicated natural bioactives

Wageningen Plant Research (WPR) has an extensive record in research of plant terpene biosynthesis. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research (WFBR) has developed a fermentation platform where natural biodiversity of microbes is exploited to fermentatively convert plant waste materials into fractions with higher or specific bioactivities. In this project, the Wageningen Research departments will jointly develop a novel approach to microbially convert terpene-rich plant waste streams by dedicated fermentation, to produce novel natural antimicrobial and antifungal solutions.

The need that we need answer

There is an increasing need for new, natural bioactives, both for crop protection and food conservation. Waste streams from agriculture and plant processing are often still rich in valuable compounds that can be valorised. Examples are terpenes, a large group of isoprenoid-derived phytochemicals comprising not only monoterpenes like menthol and limonene, but also diterpenes such as taxanes and sesquiterpenes such as zingiberene and lactucin. Several terpenes naturally exert antimicrobial, antifungal and insect repellent activities. Examples of side streams rich in terpene compounds are fruit peel and pulp from the citrus juice industry and roots of Belgian endive, which are currently discarded (also see CichOpt project).

Unique approach

Structural modifications, including oxidation, acylation, glycosylation etc., can strongly influence the bioactivity of terpenes. Such modifications can be performed through specific enzymes naturally present in microbes and plants. In this project we will apply dedicated fermentation by natural microbial strains to convert existing terpene-rich side streams into valuable bioactive terpene products. Two approaches will be taken: I) a targeted functionalization to produce new terpenes with specific known antimicrobial, antifungal and insect repellent properties; and II) an untargeted approach in which terpene-rich waste material will be fermented by an array of microbial strains and consequently screened for anti-insect, antifungal and antibacterial activities, thus leading to the discovery of new lead protective agents for food conservation and crop protection.

Join our shared research development

The basic technologies that are key to this R&D strategy have already been established at WPR and WFBR. We hereby invite different companies from all along the value chain, ranging from companies with terpene-rich side streams up to end users interested in new products for natural crop protection or food conservation, to join this novel research line. The company activities may include for example, evaluation of the valorisation potential of the different existing terpene-rich side streams, the fermentative conversion of terpene-rich biomass, bioactivity screening, and scale-up of the fermentation process for industrial applications.