Sweet success: Researchers could produce erythritol from straw with new GM fungus

By Nathan Gray contact

- Last updated on GMT

Sweet success: Researchers could produce erythritol from straw with new GM fungus

Related tags: Enzyme

German scientists have developed a technique to produce the low calorie sweetener erythritol from straw using a new genetically modified fungus.

The new production method, published in AMB Express, ​reveals a new way to produce the calorie-free sweetener – which is currently produced using yeasts and glucose from wheat or corn starch.

However, the team led by Dr Astrid Mach-Aigner from the Vienna University of Technology, have now developed a method to produce the sweetener from ordinary straw with the help of a mould fungus.

"We knew that the mould fungus Trichoderma reesei is in principle capable of producing erythritol, but usually only in tiny quantities",​ said Professor Robert Mach, who also worked on the study. "By genetically modifying it, we managed to stimulate the production of an enzyme, which enables the large-scale production of the sweetener."

Experiments using the genetically modified fungus (rather than yeasts) have been a ‘big success’, said the team – who now plan to optimise the procedure for industrial use.

"We have proven that the new production method works",​ Mach added. "Now we want to improve it together with our industry partners so that it can be used for large-scale production."

Renewable substrate

The scientists used wheat straw pre-treated with an alkaline organic solvent to remove the lignin (polymer layer) to a residual concentration of about 1% (w/w) making it easier for the fungus to access the cellulose.

The treated straw was then exposed to the GM fungus strains - with some cultivated in shake flasks and others in bioreactors.

Results showed the modified fungus increased erythritol production ten-fold.

“We demonstrated that the production of erythritol on the renewable, non-food substrate wheat straw, using T. reesei​ is possible​,” the report said.

“The alkaline organosolve pre-treatment process used for the wheat straw is compatible for subsequent fungal growth and provides an easily utilizible substrate.”

Source: AMB Express
Volume 4, Issue 34, doi: 10.1186/s13568-014-0034-y
‘Erythritol production on wheat straw using Trichoderma reesei’
Authors: Birgit Jovanović, Robert L Mach,a Astrid R Mach-Aigner

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