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New environmentally friendly process to create grapefruit flavouring

A new method of producing grapefruit flavouring, from orange oil, has been developed by researchers at the University of Oxford, thanks to funding from EPSRC and BBSRC.

The new process is more environmentally sustainable and produces flavouring that can be labelled ‘natural’ under EU regulations. Grapefruit flavouring is in high demand but short supply. It can be produced synthetically from more plentiful orange oil, but this process requires a high energy input and generates toxic by-products.

The worldwide annual market for nootkatone, the flavour and fragrance of grapefruit, is 20 tonnes, yet it takes 400,000kg of grapefruit to produce just 1kg of nootkatone. As a result, nootkatone extracted from grapefruit is worth up to $7000 per kg, equal to $35 for one teaspoon.

Professor Luet Wong and his colleagues at the Department of Chemistry, University of Oxford have found a way to create nootkatone from orange flavouring, which is plentiful, using a particular form of an enzyme called cytochrome P450.

This grapefruit flavouring will be the first product to be sold by spin-out company Oxford Biotrans, which was formed in 2013 to develop and commercialise new ways of producing desirable products using P450 enzymes.

The company received £600,000 in seed funding, a further £2.5 million of private investment in 2015, and recently completed an additional £2.1 million investment round in 2017. It currently employs 12 people in Oxford. Oxford Biotrans expects the first product containing this flavouring to be on the market in 2018.

Dr Matthew Hodges, Director of Commercial Operations at Oxford Biotrans, says; “We’ve shown that this enzyme can perform a lot of different reactions, so we can create a lot of different products. We’re using Nootkatone as an example in the first instance, to prove that we can produce it economically and on an industrial scale. But in the longer term we plan to show that we can make not just flavours and fragrances but other fine chemicals including pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals, and show that industrial biotechnology can be used to replace traditional chemistry in many different industries.”

Karen Lewis, Executive Director, Innovation and Skills at BBSRC says: “The researchers have produced an innovative solution to create a much more environmentally sustainable grapefruit flavouring and it’s incredibly gratifying to see that Oxford Biotrans, the spin out company formed to develop and commercialise new ways of producing desirable products using P450 enzymes, already has plans for the future that includes several further high-value flavour products, highlighting the fantastic opportunities presented by industrial biotechnology and the bioeconomy.”

Find out more about the company: Oxford Biotrans


Tags: University of Oxford crops synthetic biology industrial biotechnology industry news