New research project ASPIRANT - focus on terpenoids

Molecular Biotechnology /

Just in time for the Science Year 2020/21 Bioeconomy, the go-ahead for the "ASPIRANT" project was given on February 1, 2020. The interdisciplinary research consortium was successful in the call for proposals by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF): "Tailor-made biobased ingredients for a competitive bioeconomy" in the framework program "National Research Strategy Bioeconomy 2030". The interdisciplinary research consortium has set itself the goal of unlocking further terpenoids for science and industry.

With over 40,000 compounds, terpenoids represent the largest class of natural substances, and they are synthesized by all organisms. One particularly impressive figure is the number of different terpenoids found in flowering plants. In nature, they fulfill a wide variety of functions: As pigments, for example, they color flowers and fruits, as fragrances they attract pollinators, and as components of resins or waxes they serve as a defense against herbivory. The economic importance of terpenoids is enormous. Their industrial use ranges from high-quality pharmaceuticals such as taxol and artemisinin, to vitamins and components of personal care and cosmetic products or foodstuffs, to biofuels and natural rubber. The extraction of terpenoids from the producing plants poses great challenges: Depending on the respective environmental conditions, composition and amounts may vary. In addition, extraction from plant biomass is often accompanied by considerable energy and resource consumption. Thus, isolation of terpenoids directly from plants is often not economical. Chemical synthesis from petrochemical feedstocks, in turn, struggles with the enormous complexity of natural products. Alternative, sustainable systems for production and purification are needed in the bioeconomy.

The team of the research project ASPIRANT, coordinated by Fraunhofer IME, combines expertise from the fields of chemistry, biology, process engineering and pharmacy. Scientists from the Technical University of Munich (TUM), Fraunhofer IME and the SMEs VivaCell Biotechnology GmbH and Phytowelt GreenTechnologies GmbH are combining their expertise and jointly planning to build the necessary steps in the value chain to use novel triterpenoids as a basis for the development of innovative pharmaceutical products. First, suitable triterpenoids from plants will be identified. For this purpose, the researchers will use a knowledge-based approach taking into account what is already known about the efficacy of exctracts of these plants. These triterpenoids will be isolated and their efficacy investigated for in-depth analysis in pharmaceutical tests. It is envisaged to transfer the final steps of biosynthesis for positive terpenoid candidates into yeasts and to modify them in a pharmaceutically beneficial way. Yeasts are unicellular fungi that are generally fast growing and undemanding in terms of their diet and environmental conditions. For terpenoid production in ASPIRANT, we are using the yeasts specially adapted by Fraunhofer IME, which will be further improved to enable an efficient, cost-effective and sustainable production method.
"This will not be old wine in new bottles! Through its interdisciplinary approach, the ASPIRANT project offers the opportunity to work hand in hand with the competent experts on open issues in downstream processing and application in the targeted products in order to ultimately develop an economically viable and forward-looking scenario," explain Dr. Guido Jach (CEO of Phytowelt Greentechnolgies GmbH) and Dr. Bernd Fiebich (Managing Director of VivaCell Biotechnologie GmbH).

Phytowelt GreenTechnologies GmbH

Phytowelt is an innovative and experienced biotechnology company. As contract researchers, they develop processes and products  for flavour or active ingredients and raw material production. For various industrial applications, Phytowelt combines molecular biology with plant biotechnology and is a pioneer of a bio-based economy. Biotechnological production (fermentation, biotransformation, biocatalysis) can save costs, increase efficiency and protect the environment as well as resources.


VivaCell Biotechnology GmbH

Vivacell Biotechnology GmbH is a privately owned contract-based research organization (CRO) that provides specialized in vitro and in vivo models for the development and proving the health benefits of cosmetics, oral and personal care products, nutraceuticals, food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, probiotcials, natural products, and botanicals. Additional services for marketing studies are offered. VivaCell’s preclinical services include standard protocols and protocols adapted to the needs of the customers using a variety of in vitro and in vivo systems. VivaCell is combining highly qualified cellular and molecular biology knowledge and expertise in various fields. At VivaCell we offer a complete research projects from basic R&D up to pre-clinical research (GLP) in one hand. Our clients do not have to gather the research data form various CROs.


Technical University of Munich (TUM)
The Technical University of Munich (TUM) is one of Europe’s leading research universities, with around 550 professors, 43,000 students, and 10,000 academic and non-academic staff. Its focus areas are the engineering sciences, natural sciences, life sciences and medicine, combined with economic and social sciences. TUM acts as an entrepreneurial university that promotes talents and creates value for society. In that it profits from having strong partners in science and industry. It is represented worldwide with the TUM Asia campus in Singapore as well as offices in Beijing, Brussels, Cairo, Mumbai, San Francisco, and São Paulo. Nobel Prize winners and inventors such as Rudolf Diesel, Carl von Linde, and Rudolf Mößbauer have done research at TUM. In 2006, 2012, and 2019 it won recognition as a German "Excellence University." In international rankings, TUM regularly places among the best universities in Germany. For many years, the Chair of Biochemistry at the Faculty of Chemistry is active in the field of structural analysis of terpenes, terpenoids (including triterpenoids) and related natural products.