Sterols from plant origin are designated as phytosterols. They are similar to the animal derived cholesterol and are used in the food industry as natural components with cholesterol lowering effect. Phytosterols are in the focus of the food and pharmaceutical industry as basis of flavor modifying substances, for improved delivery and adsorption (cf. bile acids) of nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals, or as biodetergents.
A potential, cost-saving resource of phytosterols are tall oils, that accumulate as a byproduct during the paper production process. Commonly, tall oils' main components are fatty acids, resin acids and phytosterols of different compositions depending on the source wood. In this collaborative project, scientists of the Fraunhofer CBP (supervisor, PI Gerd Unkelbach) will analyze tall oils of local paper factories and establish methods for their isolation and purification. Subsequently, at the IPB (supervisor, Professor Ludger Wessjohann), we will look into the conversion of these natural substances into high value products by use of biocatalytic processes.
In contrast to the common fatty acid acyl derivatives extensively studied before, here the focus lies on the development of new polar intermediates and products of phytosterols. There are sterol scaffolds that obtain their biological activity from hydroxylations and glycosylations (addition of sugar moieties), and this shall be mimicked and expanded to provide usable first processes for further development in the flavor and fragrance (F&F) and food industry. Biocatalytic processes are not only favored for legal, consumer and environmental reasons, but in contrast to most traditional chemical processes they allow the regio- and stereoselective hydroxylation of few or non-activated CH groups in the sterol.
The interdisciplinary project is funded for three years (04/2017- 03/2020) by the European Regional Development Fund. The Leibniz Institute of Plant Biochemistry (Contact person: Professor Ludger Wessjohann) acts as coordinator collaborating with the Fraunhofer Center for Chemical-Biotechnological Processes (CBP).