lunes, 23 de julio de 2012

Microbe-made fragrances available for different consumers

Rather than rely on plant-derived products, biotech companies are engineering bacteria and yeast to produce ingredients for fragrances.

The flavor and fragrance industry experienced a shortage of patchouli oil in 2010 when soggy weather gave Indonesian growers a poor harvest of Pogostemon cablin, a perennial shrub in the mint family that is the source of the fragrant oil. That disappointment was followed by volcanic eruptions in the islands, which spawned earthquakes and a tsunami, further disrupting supply.

The patchouli market has since recovered. “Prices have come down over the last couple of months. It is a good moment to buy now before the demand starts to pick up,” advises Eramex Aromatics, a German supplier of flavor and fragrance raw materials, in its March 2012 market report.
A number of biotech companies are looking to supplement plant-derived fragrances by engineering bacteria and yeast to produce commercial scents, potentially changing how the industry sources its products.

Plant sources can be unreliable: they are often susceptible to the whims of corrupt governments that can make it difficult to acquire the plants or to natural disasters that lead to supply shortages. Although the ability to produce scents in large quantities is still in development, a number of biotech companies including Allylix, Isobionics, and Evolva, are hoping to create plant-derived scents using engineered microbes.

So far, the only microbe-made fragrances available are the citrus molecules that smell like Valencia oranges and grapefruit peel, as well as vanilla. But companies plan to focus on more rare and difficult-to-acquire smells next. “If you have a rare compound that you can only isolate from a particular orchid that grows in the swamps of Florida, then only a handful of people in the world can have access to that,” Kalib Kersh, an analyst at consulting firm Lux Research, told Chemical & Engineering News. If such a fragrance could be engineered in the lab, it could be produced at much larger quantities without harvesting the rare plant. (Hat tip to Wired Science.)

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