12 January - 20 June 2016

Yeast shown to be a revolutionary alternative to palm oil

26 February 2015

Increasing controversy surrounding the palm oil industry has prompted significant efforts to introduce global standards to create sustainable sources and research alternatives. While the push to encourage sustainable production has gained traction, with 18% of global palm oil certified by the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), the environmental and financial impact of deforestation and displacement of other food sources for cultivation of palm oil still challenges this industry.  Some research into palm oil alternatives have focused on microorganisms capable of oil production such as bacteria, fungi and yeast because they do not require precious agricultural land for cultivation.

Researchers at the University of Bath have performed investigations into Metschnikowia pulcherrima, a species of yeast found in flower nectar and on the surfaces of fruit, which had previously been thought not to produce oil. By modifying the growth environment and introducing environmental stress in the form of nitrogen starvation, their studies demonstrate that a 40% lipid yield may be achieved. 

This species is of particular appeal due to its ability to grow in relatively hostile environments such as low pH and high temperatures indicating that production costs may be kept to a minimum. Given that sterilisation and agitation increase manufacturing costs, Santamauro et al. were able to demonstrate that promising yields were possible in a temperature controlled greenhouse using non-sterile 500 L raceway ponds agitated with a paddle at 10 rpm. Based on the success of the research to date, the experiments will be scaled up with the intention of expanding production to 10,000 L bioreactors by the end of 2015.

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