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“Biotechnological Production Platform for
new Tailor-made Glycolipid Biosurfactants”


Biosurf is a SBO (Strategic Basic Research) project funded by the IWT (Institute for the Promotion of Innovation by Science and Technology in Flanders)


Surfactants are performance molecules that intervene in nearly every product and every aspect of human life. The large majority of the currently used surfactants are produced by chemical means from fossil resources such as petroleum. The use of these compounds may lead to significant environmental problems due to their ecotoxicity, bio-accumulation and poor biodegradability. Glycolipid biosurfactants are an alternative, as they combine good functional properties with low ecotoxicity, good biodegradability and excellent skin compatibility. Moreover, glycolipids can be produced by fermentation from renewable resources, typically from sugars and vegetable oils. Unfortunately, nature offers us only a very limited range of glycolipids that can be industrially produced and applied.

This project aims to expand the range of useful glycolipid biosurfactants beyond the natural variety, in order to significantly improve their use and application range. A generic platform technology will be developed to produce tailor-made glycolipids with better physicochemical and biological properties. The technology is based on the use of the yeast Candida bombicola, a production strain that naturally produces sophorolipids from glucose and vegetable oils in high yield and efficiency. This strain will be modified by metabolic engineering to produce new-to-nature and tailor-made glycolipids. By adding, deleting or combining the five genes that intervene in glycolipid biosynthesis, both the lipid tail and the carbohydrate head can be modified. Thus, a vast range of glycolipids can be obtained, extending the biosynthetic capabilities of the production strain far beyond its natural synthesis power for sophorolipids.

In order to gain experience and to obtain proof of concept of the developed production platform, a number of production strains will be constructed to produce glycolipids that are not naturally produced by Candida bombicola. These strains will be used to obtain glycolipids that will be tested in a wide range of applications by the members of the user commission of the project.

This technology will result in a generic platform for rational construction of efficient production strains for new-to-nature and tailor-made glycolipid biosurfactants. This is expected to significantly broaden the range of commercial biosurfactants, satisfying the need for structural diversity in the market. We expect that this technology will result in a breakthrough penetration of biosurfactants in the overall surfactant market. The proposed project aims to build critical mass and expertise in the production of tailor-made glycolipids, and is intended to lay the technological base for a spin-off company, to be established towards the end of the project.

January1st, 2009 – May 31st, 2012


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