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Using algae to produce medium-chain-length fatty acids

By Tetsuo Satoh |

Scientists at Kao Corp. (KAO; Tokyo, Japan; chemical.kao.com) have discovered an enzyme that has the potential for producing large quantities of medium-chain (C12) fatty acids (FAs), which are the main components of natural oils, such as palm-kernel and coconut-palm oils. Such FAs are precursors to surfactants used in shampoos and detergents. The discovery could lead to an alternative route to such FAs, without competing with natural, edible oils. Since 2011, the company has been working on alternative sources for FAs at its Eco-Technology Research Center (ETRC). The researchers surveyed the composition of FAs produced from more than 1,200 algae strains, and identified several types that can accumulate the C12 fatty acid, lauric acid, up to 10 wt.% or more. The algae Symbiodium sp., for example, has a high production capacity for FAs. It was shown that the amount of desired FAs can be increased by optimizing the environmental and cultivation conditions, such as the carbon source (glycerin) and nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus). They also identified, for the first time, the enzyme acyl ATP thioesterase (TE), which determines the chain length of FAs produced. KAO has shown that the C12 FAs produced by the algae are suitable for products,…
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