From ancient times, mankind has used biotechnology—broadly defined as the use of living organisms or their products—in breeding new food crops and, at the microbial level, in brewing alcoholic beverages and in baking bread.

In this century, commercial applications of biotechnology include the use of fungal enzymes from Aspergillus niger. For example, pectinase clarifies fruit-based drinks, xylanase improves bread baking, and phytase increases the bio-availability of phosphate in animal feed.

As useful as are these enzymes, DSM Food Specialties, through its parent DSM in Heerlen, The Netherlands, is working to better understand the DNA of A. niger and other fungi, bacteria and yeast, and the proteins (enzymes) these microbes provide.

Such efforts result in more sustainable production processes because there is reduced raw material and energy demand and less waste streams, notes Dr. Rob Beudeker, manager, Ingredients Development, DSM Food Specialties.

Diving into Details

Traditional techniques in genetic R&D tend to be “hit and miss.” In contrast, genomics provides an important tool to steer production, processing and product development to a much higher level. Genomics is more than the study of genetic material, it is a new research approach with many facets, saysDr. Alard van Dijk, senior scientist with DSM Food Specialties.

The “A. niger genomics project,” a collective term involving examination of all the biochemical processes within each cell and the complex relation between genes and proteins, exemplifies efforts in this area.

When DSM embarked on the genomics project in July 2000, only 1-2% of A.niger's 14,000 genes were known. With the project's recent completion, A.niger's complete DNA sequence, i.e. 100%, is now known, says van Dijk.

Some consumers are uncomfortable about DNA research. The company feels its open and transparent policy helps allay many concerns. Additionally, DSM has focused on the overproduction of genes within A. niger. Termed “homologous recombination,” the DNA within the organism is duplicated rather than transferred between organisms. The resulting microbes are not considered GMOs, according to U.S. regulations, says van Dijk.

“With the full genome of A. niger now at hand, many enzymes have been identified that will extend our current portfolio to include ingredients that modify flavor profiles or that can provide tailor-made adjustments to textures. A great potential also exists for new applications in categories such as functional foods,” states Beudeker.

“Fruits of labor” from the genome project include enzymes that play an increasingly important role in the development of foods with improved taste and texture.
Current efforts include DSM's participation in a project to establish the DNA-sequence of Propionibacterium freudenreichii, a dairy propionic acid bacterium (PAB) that will facilitate the development of other new fermentation-derived ingredients. The company wishes to explore its novel technologies and products with potential customers and, in particular, grow in the functional foods market through cooperation with third parties.

For more information:
Jos van Haastrecht at +31 152 792 685
DSM Food Specialties Write in 229