Synthetic biology in the real world: Case studies

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Oxford Biotrans – sustainable grapefruit flavour

By Caroline Channing

Oxford Biotrans is a spin-out company from Oxford University; its first process will produce nootkatone which gives grapefruit its flavour.

An alternative source of natural nootkatone is needed as extraction from grapefruit peel is difficult and the supply is limited, resulting in it being one of the most expensive flavour ingredients in the world (typically £2000 to £5000 per kg).  Chemical synthesis of nootkatone is also not attractive as it is inefficient and often involves the use of toxic metals.

The key technology is a modified version of an enzyme Cytochrome P450, which was developed at the University of Oxford by Dr. Luet Lok Wong. To produce nootkatone, valencene (readily produced from orange oil) is converted to nootkatone using the enzyme P450.

The product has already created strong market interest and will be available in commercial quantities in the coming months. Oxford Biotrans has recently raised £2.5 million of new investment which it will use to establish its own laboratory and office facilities in Milton Park, Oxfordshire, recruit several additional employees (largely scientists and engineers) and thereby develop further novel processes using its patented P450 enzyme technology.


UK Strategic Plan for Synthetic Biology 2016

Click on the image above to download the UK Synthetic Biology Strategic Plan 2016

New synthetic biology technologies are starting to offer exciting opportunities across a range of industries including manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, biofuels and health.

Research Council funding in collaboration with a wide variety of national and international partners across academia and industry, is supporting the long-term growth of UK synthetic biology, development of a highly skilled workforce and an infrastructure to underpin and enable cutting edge research in industry and academia, as well as providing support for synthetic biology start-up companies.

The pervasive potential of synthetic biology is brought to life through a series of case studies ranging from a biosensor toolkit with the ability to treat chronic conditions such as diabetes through to using enzymes from yeast mould to unlock cleaner routes to producing biofuel.

The wide ranging applications of synthetic biology will play an important role in growing the UK's bioeconomy, creating new jobs and ensuring the UK is a world leader in this area.

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