Prof. Dr. Andreas Vilcinskas
The demand for industrial enzymes is growing continuously, including enzymes for the production of biofuels and fine chemicals. Insects, often in partnership with symbiotic microorganisms, can utilize virtually any kind of organic matter as a food source. Specialized insects have also evolved enzymatic degradation pathways for almost all pesticides and plant toxins, and for the destruction of pathogenic microorganisms. Insect hormones, pheromones, defense compounds and cuticle components are all synthesized with the help of specific and often unique enzymes. Most of these reactions cannot be replicated using conventional organic synthesis techniques.
Currently, the Fraunhofer Bioresources Project Group is focusing on the following projects involving insect-derived enzymes:
- Gluten-degrading enzymes
- Keratin-degrading enzymes
- Biofilm-degrading enzymes
- Coagulation-promoting enzymes
- Enzymatic production of hydrocarbons
This is a collaborative project between the Fraunhofer Bioresources Project Group and the research group led Prof. Holger Zorn (Justus-Liebig University Giessen). It involves the isolation of enzymes from grain pests and their utilization for the development of gluten-free foods.
Keratin is the main component of feathers, wool and leather, and therefore large amounts of waste keratin are generated in the poultry and textiles industry, as well as accumulating in recycling clothes. The Fraunhofer Bioresources Project Group is investigating strategies to recover value from such highly-resistant resources by utilizing enzymes from the symbiotic bacteria of the clothes moth.
Lysozyme from the albumin component of domestic chicken eggs (commonly known as the egg white) is already widely used for food preservation. Its mode of action is based on the destruction of bacterial cell walls. The Fraunhofer Bioresources Project Group is investigating potential uses for the ten different forms of lysozyme produced by the Asian ladybird beetle.
The formation of biofilms on implants, catheters and in hemodialysis devices is a leading cause of nosocomial infections. The Fraunhofer Bioresources Project Group is investigating the potential applications of insect-derived biofilm-degrading enzymes, using model biofilms and analytical procedures for the detection of released carbohydrates.
This is a collaborative project between the Fraunhofer Bioresources Project Group and the research group led by Prof. Klaus T. Preissner (Justus-Liebig University Giessen). It involves the analysis of secretions from the blow fly Lucilia sericata, which include enzymes that activate the human blood clotting cascade.
Enzymatic production of hydrocarbons
Alkanes and alkenes are responsible for the water-repellent properties of the insect cuticle. Some insect species also use these compounds a pheromones or as components of defense secretions. The Fraunhofer Bioresources Project Group is investigating the insect enzymes used to produce such hydrocarbons for potential applications in the biofuel industry.