Lighting system to optimize plant cell cultures for secondary metabolite production

Securing the future of active ingredient and food supply through light-optimized plant cell cultures - without using genetic engineering.


Ecological sustainability and healthy nutrition despite a growing world population are among the greatest challenges we face as a society. Here, the conflict between the cultivation of food crops and crops for the production of technical raw materials or active ingredients also plays a significant role so that the supply of these substances is also at risk in the near future.

Plant cell cultures (PCCs) already represent an important alternative to conventionally grown plants for the production of secondary plant ingredients used primarily in cosmetics and personal care products, but also as food additives and active ingredients. In contrast to whole plants, PCCs can be cultivated independent of seasonal conditions, available acreage and without using pesticides, which enables a high quality, security of supply and local production of the required substances.

By using light of specific wavelengths, the production of biomass as well as the desired ingredients can be positively influenced. This is a non-invasive, non-chemical influence without using genetic engineering, which are important factors for the acceptance by the end consumers, especially for cosmetics and food.

Therefore, a lighting system for PCCs has been developed at the Fraunhofer IME in Aachen to investigate the influence of light with specific wavelengths on the cultures in order to find optimal light recipes for the production of valuable ingredients. The patent-pending LEDitSHAKE system allows the use of 12 light conditions in parallel within a single shaking incubator, while in commercially available shaking incubators only white light is possible. With LEDitSHAKE, the intensity, photoperiod and spectrum of the light (red, green, blue, white, farred, UV) can be controlled and the respective influence can be investigated.

The method established at IME (combination of statistical experimental design and LEDitSHAKE) is unique and represents the state of the art. The LEDitSHAKE system is modular and can be installed in any standard shaker incubator for the cultivation of plant cell cultures and is therefore universally applicable.

In order to further exploit the potential of using plant cell cultures for the sustainable production of active ingredients and, in the medium term, also of food, LEDitSHAKE participates in the 2022 Fraunhofer AHEAD program to be further developed towards spin-off or licensing. However, the LEDitSHAKE technology will also continue to be used in regular research projects, for example in the investigation of the influence of light on various plant cells, but also cyanobacteria.