Engineered yeast could replace flowers in fragrances

By Michelle Yeomans contact

- Last updated on GMT

Engineered yeast could replace flowers in fragrances

Related tags: Synthetic biology, Dna

Boston-based specialists in synthetic biology Ginkgo Biowork is using yeast to produce fragrances that are cheaper than using naturally sourced ingredients.

The process is a collection of genetic-engineering techniques that alter the DNA of existing organisms to create new ones from scratch, like rose oil, which these scientists say could replace flowers as sources of ingredients for fragrances and also give perfumers more control with formulations.

Ginkgo, set up by former MIT computer scientist Tom Kelly and three other MIT biological-engineering graduates, has raised $9 m to date, to ramp up production in its new facility where automated robotics put together the organisms based on the scientists' genetic sequence and DNA fragments from outside suppliers. 

These genes are then turned into yeast which include flavors and fragrances that evoke peaches, grapes, and even fresh-cut grass.

"We often find that a different but highly related gene from a different species works better in yeast than the rose gene that has the function we want​," biologist Patrick Boyle tells

'Industry concerns'

This development is also drawing concerns from some in the cosmetics industry who dislike the use of genetically modified organisms or feel that this kind of yeast will be short of the rich subtleties that distinguish a high-end fragrance.

The food and cosmetics industry are the front line for synthetic biology ingredients, and products like rose oil are rapidly entering the market without understanding what the environmental impacts could be​,” Dana Perls of Friends of the Earth tells

Perls tells the publication that synthetic products could also displace laborers who grow the natural equivalents for a living.

However, it reports that those in favor of the synthetic biology, argue that technology like this has the potential to produce scarce, expensive and much-needed natural resources for various industries.

Related topics: Formulation & Science, Fragrance

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