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Custom-built microbes offer a myriad of benefits

| November 12, 2013

Genetically engineered microbes could be the “third industrial revolution,” wrote Amanda Maxham in Voices for Reason. Microbes such as yeast, which take in sugars and excrete by-products such as alcohol and carbon dioxide, can be genetically engineered to excrete medicines, flavors, or other chemical compounds. This opens up a huge opportunity for chemical or pharmaceutical companies to reduce costs of production and increase efficiency.

A Swiss company for example, Maxham wrote, has genetically engineered yeast to excrete vanilla flavoring. Another company, Amyris, engineered a strain of yeast to synthesize an anti-malarial drug known as artemisinin. This year, Maxham wrote, Amyris’s yeast produced 35 tons of artemisinin, enough for 70 million treatments. Not surprisingly however, this new technique has become a new target for the anti-GMO movement.

Hundreds of new bio-synthesized compounds are in the development pipeline. A Swiss company is expecting to soon roll out a bio-synthesized vanilla, produced by yeast that have been genetically engineered to generate the flavoring as a by-product when fed sugar. Real vanilla beans are expensive, harvested from the seeds of a finicky orchid that grows in rainforest climates. It takes five hundred pounds of these seeds to produce a single pound of vanilla. Synthetic vanilla flavorings on the market today have failed to capture the complexity of genuine vanilla beans. But the Swiss company, Evolva, claims that its bio-synthesized vanilla comes much closer to the original and will be much cheaper to harvest.

Read the full, original story here: “The benefits of custom-built microbes”

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The GLP featured this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. The viewpoint is the author’s own. The GLP’s goal is to stimulate constructive discourse on challenging science issues.

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