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Biotech-ing the food industry

by AprilSix Proof

In February, I headed to the QEII Conference Centre in central London to attend the 2015 Industrial Biotechnology (IB) Showcase. Bringing together nearly 300 IB experts from across the UK and Europe, the Showcase aimed to highlight UK excellence in biotechnology, and it definitely did that – I was amazed by some of the work presented!

Organised by the IB Leadership Forum and the Knowledge Transfer Network, the two day programme combined excellent academic research with the industrial applications of biology and everything in between. And this is what’s unique about the field of Industrial Biotech – it is the use of biological resources (such as plants or micro-organisms) to manufacture, process or produce compounds on an industrial scale. And it’s not something that’s far in the future, it’s already having an impact on the food industry today.

Did you know that only 40% of the orange is actually used to produce juice? Currently, the rest goes to waste. This is a situation that the Biorenewables Development Centre (BDC) wants to change. They’ve demonstrated that it’s possible to use microwave technology to extract the high-value chemical limonene from orange peel waste. This versatile chemical is a colourless liquid that is commonly used in cosmetics and cleaning products. The BDC have also worked with an artisan bread company to produce a rapeseed oil infused with a natural anti-oxidant to extend its shelf-life.

Biotech even has a role to play in the land of single-serve coffee. When you think of single-serve coffee, do you just picture George Clooney? You should be thinking about bioplastics! Biome Bioplastics materials can be used by manufacturers across the coffee pod industry, but uniquely, can be disposed of in food waste rather than going into landfill.

At the event we also spoke to Oxford Biotrans about nootkatone, the compound that provides the distinctive smell of grapefruit. In high demand for use in soft drinks, sweets and perfumes, nootkatone is very difficult to extract from the fruit. In fact, 400,000 kg of grapefruits are needed to produce a single kilogram of the compound. But this week, Oxford Biotrans announced that they’ve found a natural way to reproduce nootkatone using an enzyme and an extract from oranges.

These were just three of the food-related highlights from the event – I haven’t even mentioned the other applications in which IB is making its mark. But I left with a real sense that biotech is really all around us, improving our products. I can’t wait to see more!

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