Corn 'leftovers' a factory for lycopene

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Lycopene, Carotenoid

Boosting 'added-value' opportunities for companies working with
corn, new research from government scientists on a fungus could
hold the key to using corn fibre as a factory for the production of
the potent antioxidant lycopene, making it a far cheaper
alternative to sourcing the carotenoid from tomatoes,writes
Lindsey Partos.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists genetically modified the fungus Fusarium sporotrichioides​ to manufacture the antioxidant lycopene from the cheap corn fibre material - the 'leftovers' of making ethanol.

The ARS findings revealed this week could mean that in the near future supplement and health ingredients firms could have cheaper sources for lycopene, as well as other carotenoids. A fact that will contribute both to the bottom line and advantageous pricing policies to gain greater market share.

Ingredients firms working in today's climate are turning to speciality concepts to improve profits. Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of health-promoting foods where heavy investment in R&D is starting to pay off.

Lycopene, the pigment that makes tomatoes red, is gaining in popularity as a nutraceutical as new science uncovers the potential health benefits locked into this powerful antioxidant. Lycopene is thought to reduce risk of prostate cancer and fight heart disease.

In the modified fungus, geneticist Timothy Leathers, at the ARSNational Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Illinois sees a potential way to mass-producelycopene from ethanol co-products like corn fiber rather than extractand purify the carotenoid from tomatoes.

'Corn fiber is ideal because it's abundant and costs about five cents a pound. The US ethanolindustry generates four million tons of the fiber annually, and sells itas livestock feed to avoid disposal fees,'​ said Leathers.

According to the scientist, proof-of-concept studies showed that when cultured in lab flasks, the modified fungus produced 0.5 milligram of lycopene per gram of dry weight within six days.

The plan now is to scale up the studies by culturing the fungus in fermenters on a growth mediumcontaining the corn fiber or DDGS.

As a first step the team 'short-circuited' the metabolic pathways of F. sporotrichioides​, through which it makes natural trichothecene toxins. Using a patented recombinant technique (6,372,479), the team 're-wired' the fungus with new genes for making lycopene. ARS patented the microbe on February 24 (6,696,282).

Market analysts Datamonitor predict that the US nutraceutical market, of which carotenoids represent a slice, will grow to sales of $35.4 billion by 2006 with key growth areas in the dairy and confectionery categories. Disease-specific nutraceuticals have taken a back seat to well-targeted and conveniently packaged fortified products that deliver added lifestyle benefits such as enhanced energy and memory, say the report authors.

Datamonitor adds that due to the US government's current focus on critical food safety issues, it is less resistant to product claims that are backed by sound scientific data. 'This shift has made the nutraceutical regulatory environment more conducive to new launches than ever before,'​ concludes the report.

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