LOEWE Center for
Insect Biotechnology
& Bioresources

Biotechnology of Food and Feed Improvement Agents

Prof. Dr. Holger Zorn

With an annual turnover of about 165 billion €, the food branch represents one of the most important sectors of the German industry. Since ancient times, food and drinks like bread, sauerkraut, soy sauce, cheese, beer, or wine have been produced by means of biotechnology. While the production of these traditional products was error-prone and predominantly based on experience, today state of the art biotechnological and molecular biological methods allow for a fundamental understanding of the complex biochemical processes. Starting from the elucidation of biochemical pathways and the enzymes involved therein, strategies may be developed to make food healthier, safer, and tastier. Considering the growing world population, the climate change, and the increasing competition for renewable resources, sustainable approaches for food production are necessary.
Therefore, the following topics are addressed at the LOEWE Center for Insect Biotechnology & Bioresources (ZIB) within the group „Biotechnology of Food & Feed Improvement Agents“.

Discovery, molecular characterization, and recombinant expression of novel enzymes

The unique biologic diversity of insects and their associated microorganisms offers vast opportunities for the processing of food and the production of food and feed additives. As an example, the enzyme set of wood and straw inhabiting insects may be employed to improve the digestibility of lignified natural resources. Further options arise from copying the insects’ strategies in detoxifying anti-nutritive compounds, the hydrolysis of celiac disease causing proteins by enzymes from grain pests, or the enzymatic modification of carbohydrates.

Insect metabolites for functional food ingredients and food preservation

Insects and their associated microorganisms produce an almost inexhaustible repertoire of anti-microbial peptides and secondary metabolites. These compounds may be used for the development of novel preservation concepts as well as for functional food ingredients with additional health benefits.

Bioflavors and flavor analysis

Based on the consumers’ demand for naturalness and the limited traditional resources, biotechnological concepts for the production of natural flavor compounds are developed. Natural flavor compounds like nootkatone, norisoprenoids, and aromatics are produced from readily available precursor materials by means of biotechnology. Sophisticated tools of flavor analysis are employed to characterize substrates and products as well as to elucidate the biochemical flavor formation pathways.

Novel fermentation concepts based on basidiomycetes

Fermentation may improve the digestibility, the flavor, and the shelf life of food. While traditional food fermentation was based on the use of bacteria, yeast, and ascomycetes, recent progress in bioprocess engineering now allows for the use of basidiomycetes. Due to their pleasant taste and high nutritional value, basidiomycetes are valued foodstuffs all over the world. Their huge biochemical potential may now be employed for the production of refreshments, debittering, or removal of off-flavors.