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Bioconversion Yields New Oil-Based
Compounds By Jan
August 29, 2002
Bioconversion is the name for a "green" technology that's
enabling researchers to convert fatty acids in vegetable oil into entirely new
chemical compounds with antimicrobial, industrial or biomedical properties.
One such compound--called DOD, or
7(S),10(S)-dihydroxy-8(E)-octadecenoic acid--curbed the laboratory growth of
Candida albicans, a yeast that sometimes causes thrush and other
infections in humans. Another compound, called TOD for short, stopped the rice
blast fungus, raising the prospect for a biological fungicide against this crop
scourge, notes Tsung Min Kuo. He is a bioconversion team chemist at the
Agricultural Research Service's National
Center for Agricultural Utilization Research (NCAUR) in Peoria, Ill.
Both compounds, now patented and available for licensing, are
recent examples of the researchers' efforts to open new, value-added markets
for vegetable oils, particularly soyoil. By one estimate, 800 million of the 18
billion total pounds of soybean oil produced from 1999-2000 surpassed what
could be used domestically or exported. Bioconversion, the researchers'
approach to utilizing this surplus, involves harnessing certain microbes to
modify long chains of carbon in the oil.
Kuo, at NCAUR's Microbial
Genomics and Bioprocessing Research Unit, refers to the technology as
"green" because it generates fewer waste byproducts than chemically-driven
processes. Key is creating a favorable environment in which the technology's
microbial workhorses--mainly yeast and bacteria--can feed on and catalyze fatty
acids inside fermentation tanks.
In addition to being antimicrobial, DOD is structurally similar
to surfactants, like those in soap, and has properties applicable for use in
plastics and other industrial products, according to Ching Hou, an NCAUR
biochemist. The scientists' bioconversion research also has given rise to three
other new compounds, including THFA. This one is derived from linolenic acid in
soybean oil and resembles tetrahydrofuranyl compounds that have cancer-fighting
article about bioconversion processing appears in this month's issue of
Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's main research arm.