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Sustainable enzyme-based production of macrocyclic lactones for fragrances

| By Scott Jenkins

Planned commercial-scale production of macrocyclic gamma-lactone molecules using an enzymatic process will supply the flavors and fragrances market with sustainable alternatives to existing processes based on synthesizing petroleum-derived molecules or isolating molecules from natural sources.

The synthetic biology company Conagen Inc. (Bedford, Mass.; recently announced the commercial development of natural musk-scent compounds based on lactone (cyclic ester) chemistry for inclusion in scented formulations of colognes, perfumes, cosmetics, personal care products, household cleaners, air-care products and candles. The company says it plans to have its initial commercial product available to cosmetics customers through commercial partner Blue California, by mid-2021. The company anticipates additional compounds will enter commercial production in the subsequent months.

The commercial-scale process for producing the macrocyclic lactones is based on proprietary synthetic biology and metabolic engineering platform technologies developed by Conagen. In the case of musk scents, plant-derived lipids are converted into desired lactones using enzymatic conversion in bioreactors. “We have become very effective at maximizing the efficiency of the enzymatic reactions,” explains Casey Lippmeier, vice president of innovation at Conagen, “and we specialize in scaling up processes from microliter volumes to tons.” In addition to a more sustainable route to desired molecules, the platform technology allows the production of molecular structures that are not accessible with conventional industrial synthesis.

The company has more than 14 different microorganisms that it uses for microbial strain development. From there, Conagen scientists engineer new metabolic pathways and fermentation processes for a target molecule. Along with sustainable ingredients for the flavors and fragrances market, Conagen is using its platform technologies to develop compounds for nutritional supplements, food ingredients, specialty chemicals and others.

macrocyclic lactones