Institut für Systembiotechnologie

BMBF funds new project for the biotechnological production of nature-derived high-priced protective molecules at the Saar University with 2 million euros

News release April 21, 2020

In the next three years, the collaborative project EXTRA will focus on the development of novel processes for the fermentative production protective molecules from nature, so-called extremolytes.

Extremolytes are small molecules with which microorganisms effectively protect themselves against extreme environmental factors such as heat, cold, drought or radiation. The substances are synthesized by the microbes and enriched inside, where they form a protective film around proteins and other sensitive cell components and stabilize them. This enables microorganisms to live in extreme conditions - in Antarctica, in geysers or salt lakes. The discovery that extremolytes also stabilize human proteins, membranes and tissues by creating a protective layer of water around them has opened up a multitude of promising possible uses of these natural substances in cosmetics and medicine. The prominent extremolyte ectoine is meanwhile be found in eye drops, inhalation sprays, nose drops and creams, among other products.

Unfortunately, most extremolytes have so far only been inadequately produced, since the natural producers need extreme conditions for growth and form only traces of the desired substances, unsuitable for economical production. In this regard, EXTRA will try to enable the efficient synthesis of new types of extremolytes in tailor-made cell factories and towards future industrialization. For this purpose, the groups of Christoph Wittmann from the Institute for Systems Biotechnology at Saar-Uni and Rolf Müller from the Helmholtz Center for Pharmaceutical Sciences on the campus are combining their expertise in metabolic engineering and synthetic biology. Other cooperation partners in the network are the Saarland start-up company MyBiotech from Überherrn, which will research suitable processes for purifying the expensive products, and the company bitop from Dortmund, world market leader for the production of ectoine, which will develop and upgrade later production processes.