Micro-technologies for macro-benefits

Two emerging technologies, white biotechnology and nanotechnology, are doing more than their share to advance functionality and offer quality ingredients with enhanced performance and science-based evidence of safety and health benefits.

White biotechnology is the application of 'nature's tools' — such as micro-organisms and enzymes — for the production of (fine) chemicals, food ingredients and materials from renewable resources. Progressive companies (DSM, Chr Hansen, Novozymes, BASF) are investing in white biotechnology to transform some of their production processes and also to introduce some new products.

This move promises food ingredients produced under mild conditions with as much as 50 per cent reduced use of process water, energy and solvents, resulting in lower emissions of waste water and CO2. The switch to renewable resources further reduces CO2 emissions and operational costs, in some cases as much as half the variable costs. White biotechnology not only decreases the environmental footprint of industrial processes, it will go a long way to make the functional-foods industry more economically competitive. Ingredients once regarded as too complicated to synthesize chemically may be more readily available.

Nanotechnology is another emerging technological marvel. The term nanotechnology applies to materials in the nanometer scale — 100nm or smaller (a sheet of paper is 100,000nm thick). Nanotechnologies create particulates and emulsions that in the transition from macro to nano scale also undergo remarkable property changes. For example, curcumin, the natural yellow pigment in turmeric (Curcuma longa L) has potent anti-cancer and anti-mutagenic properties, but low solubility and limited uptake into the blood limit its efficacy. Nano-emulsions of curcumin (with as little as one per cent concentration), however, greatly enhance bioavailability and provide optimum anti-inflammatory benefits.

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