The OPTIBIOCAT project (‘Optimised esterase biocatalysts for cost-effective industrial production’) is backed by €7 million of EU funding under the FP7-programme, and brings together a broad interdisciplinary team of researchers, academics and industry experts, with 16 partners from Italy, France, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Sweden, the Netherlands and Finland.
The global demand for natural cosmetics was over €5.8 billion in 2012 and is expected to reach €10.1 billion by 2018, fuelling the need for this type of venture.
The new four-year project will replace resource and energy-intensive chemical processes currently used in the cosmetic industry through discovering and optimising novel enzymatic biocatalysts.
The researchers will develop highly effective biocatalysts, requiring fewer steps in the production of components as well as lower-temperatures (50-60°C) compared to those of chemical processes (up to 160°C).
High temperatures in current chemical techniques need a large amount of making the process expensive as well as environmentally unsound.
“The environmental footprint for the production will be significantly reduced with our innovative biocatalysts,” says Vincenza Faraco from the University of Naples, who leads the OPTIBIOCAT consortium.
“In addition, unwanted side reactions that usually cause product darkening or unpleasant odours will be avoided, resulting in highly pure products.”
The novel biocatalysts will be based on feruloyl acid esterases (FAEs) and glucuronyl esterases (GEs) for the production of phenolic fatty- and sugar-esters with antioxidant activity.
FAEs and GEs will be improved by site-directed mutagenesis and directed evolution and the project also aims to mine for completely new FAEs and GEs genes from available genomes, improving the efficiency of fermentation/production and stabilising both the enzyme formulations and the life cycle of the biocatalysts.
An impressive portfolio of novel FAEs and GEs compounds will be developed that will include 50 fungal and 500 bacterial esterases, as well as 25 site-directed and 20 directed evolved mutants.
The outcome of the project has potential to support other industry branches besides cosmetics.