Microorganisms such as yeast and fungi can function as miniature factories for producing such products as bioethanol and food colorants, which are otherwise produced by plants cultivated on precious agricultural land. This episode of our Forskningsfortællinger podcast (in Danish) explores how specific microorganisms can be used to advance the green transition in areas such as producing food and fuel.
Yeast and fungi interest both researchers and companies working to create more sustainable forms of production. In terms of research, the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) is currently investigating how yeast can catalyse the development of products such as food ingredients and fuel that are part of our everyday lives.
According to Michael Krogh Jensen, Senior Researcher at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability at DTU, yeast is especially promising for advancing the development of bioethanol, which is currently obtained from agricultural land that could be used to grow food instead of crops to make fuel for the cars we drive. However, this requires making yeast better at consuming substances they do not naturally consume.
“Yeast needs to get its act together and live on other nutrients than the refined sugar nature has designed it to consume. We must help yeast to recognize that it can consume some slightly rougher types of carbohydrate derived from the hemicellulose and cellulose that comprise the building blocks and cell walls of plants – which we do not eat. Basically, this could be the bales of straw in the fields. We really want to use stuff like this – the right type of by-product from agriculture or other sectors,” says Michael Krogh Jensen.
Colorants from fungi cultivated in a bioreactor
From a commercial perspective, Gerit Tolborg, founder and CEO of biotech company Chromologics, is interested in another microorganism: a wild-type fungus.
When Gerit Tolborg wrote her PhD thesis at DTU Bioengineering, she found a fungus in a database and discovered that it contained a new dye that might be used in industry. She then developed a process to isolate the dye and its molecular structure.
Gerit Tolborg and her colleagues are currently developing this process at Chromologics, which produces natural food colorants. Traditional food colorants are extracted from crops such as beets, tomatoes or carrots and sometimes insects. Chromologics produces its ChromoRed colorant from wild-type fungi cultivated in a bioreactor.
One advantage of this production method is that it does not generate food waste or use land on which food could otherwise be grown.
“ChromoRed does not produce the same food waste as other products because we do not use crops to make it. We think that food should be eaten and not grown to make food ingredients. We can also locate our production units all over the world, so shipping and transport are less significant,” explains Gerit Tolborg.
Listen to our Forskningsfortællinger podcast (in Danish) explain more about how the researchers at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability work with yeast to get it to produce various substances that can be used in many products. You also get an audio tour of Chromologics, where you have the opportunity to hear more about the company’s ChromoRed food colorant.
- Gerit Tolborg, CEO, Chromologics
- Michael Krogh Jensen, Senior Researcher and Group Leader, Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability (DTU Biosustain)