Biotech Updates

Rothamsted Research Scientists Engineer Plant to Replace Fossil Fuels as Source of Key Industrial Compounds

February 23, 2022

Scientists from Rothamsted Research have engineered a plant to produce a range of important chemicals used in manufacturing common everyday items which are usually obtained from fossil fuels. The chemicals are from a group of molecules called 4-VPs (vinyl phenols) that are widely used in food and makeup and even include plastic used in television and mobile phone screens.

The researchers had a breakthrough when they altered a metabolic pathway in the oilseed plant camelina and diverted it to make derivatives of potentially useful products instead. In a paper in the journal Metabolic Engineering, the researchers explained how they inserted a gene into the camelina plants to express a tailored bacterial enzyme in the developing seed. This redirected the plant's usual metabolic pathways, so rather than producing sinapine from the chemical, hydroxycinammic acid, they instead produced the 4-VP molecules, either in a free form or attached to plant sugars.

4-VP molecules have a wide range of applications, with most of them being commonly used flavor and aroma compounds for food and cosmetic products. One of them, 4-vinyl guaiacol has a clove-like taste and aroma, while 4-vinylsyringol – also known as Canolol – can be used as a food preservative. 4-vinyl phenol is used to make PVP, or polyvinylphenol, a plastic that is an integral part of most modern LCD screens.

For more details, read the news article in Rothamsted Research.

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