Fragrances and flavorings: we use them in countless products. They’re indispensable in vanilla ice cream, but are incorporated into perfumes and insect repellents as well. EV Biotech specializes in microorganisms that secrete substances that are suitable for making industrial processes more sustainable. Recently, the Groningen-based company started a collaboration with Delft Advanced Biorenewables (DAB.bio) for the green production of a monoterpene: the scent of rose petals.
A lot of chemical waste is emitted in the production of food, plastics and perfumes. There must be a better way to do that, thought Linda Dijkshoorn, CEO of EV Biotech. The start-up has been working for three years to make products that were originally made by the chemical industry more sustainable. They do this by using microorganisms and computer models that can modify the organisms. “It’s a bio-based and affordable alternative. There’s less waste and the carbon footprint is often a lot lower -because you replace substances that are currently still often derived from petroleum,” says Dijkshoorn.
From microorganism to fragrance: How it works
Using microorganisms to make raw materials is nothing new. But that the start-up makes use of extensive computer models to see what adjustments are needed in bacteria to produce certain substances is unique. Computational calculations are an essential part of the process, Dijkshoorn explains. “DNA is like a computer language: you have a script, a protocol, you download that into a cell. This cell then starts to follow the protocol. But which protocol is the most effective? For example, what does our animal need in terms of nutrition? If you are going to test all this in the lab, then you have to do countless experiments. We can use our models to make excellent predictions about what kind of adjustments we need to make in our organisms.”
The fragrance of roses
EV Biotech is now working with Delft Advanced Biorenewables (DAB.bio) to design a microbial strain that produces an aromatic ingredient for insect repellents and perfumes. “We are thrilled with the new collaboration,” says Dijkshoorn. “Our start-up is only three years old. It’s great that we’re already partnering up with such a great company at this early stage.” The new collaboration also uses both microorganisms and computer models to produce a biological compound.
We’re going to reproduce the organism that makes monoterpene, which is basically the fragrance of roses,” Dijkshoorn explains. “But the challenge with that is that it’s a very concentrated ingredient. So concentrated, in fact, that the stuff makes the bug itself sick. DAB.bio provides a fermentation set-up, the ‘house’ of the organism, where the monoterpene is removed continuously. As a result, the bugs do not become sick.”
The next step
Before a market-ready product will roll out of the new collaboration, pilot research first needs to be completed. “We hope that through this research we will not only be able to enter the market, but also share new information about exactly how the whole process works,” says Dijkshoorn. Over the coming years, the company will be focusing on the scale-up phase and hopes to cater to even more commercial customers. These can be added to EV Biotech’s list of existing customers, such as the Spanish oil and gas company Repsol, on whose behalf EV Biotech has researched a green alternative to a component extracted from petroleum.
“But first we have to show that we’re ready to take the next step. Therefore, we first need to provide proof through the pilot, and then continue on from that,” according to Dijkshoorn.