Waste to Food: Yarrowia lipolytica as protein and lipid production platform

Waste to Food: Yarrowia lipolytica as protein and lipid production platform
Gregory Stephanopoulos, Willard Henry Dow Professor of Biotechnology and Chemical Engineering, Department of Chemical Engineering

Period of performance: 

September 2016 to August 2018


Planet Earth is an evermore resource-constrained environment, both in terms of space and materials. These constraints have resulted in a number of major challenges that humanity must overcome, with food for our growing population looming large in upcoming decades. Many solutions have been put forward to address these concerns, with biotechnology poised to play a significant role most notably in crop improvement. This being said, with a few exceptions, a minimal amount of work has been done on the production of foodstuffs from non-agricultural sources. Over the past 10 years we have developed the oleaginous Yarrowia lipolytica (hereafter referred to as Yarrowia) into a platform for the conversion of organic acids to lipids. We aim to bring these skills to bear in an attempt to help reduce world hunger, particularly in developing nations. We propose a solution where waste streams can be utilized to produce high quality proteins and lipids for animal consumption via organic acid intermediates. For the lipid portion of the project we propose to focus on omega-3 (α-linolenic acid/ALA), 6 (linoleic acid/LA), and 9 (oleic acid/OA) fatty acid synthesis. Of these only ALA is a non-native product and thus will require heterologous expression of a single enzyme. In addition, to achieve ideal quantities of each of our desired products the remaining two native reactions will also need to be engineered at a genetic level. Production of protein, on the other hand, is a natural component of Yarrowia’s ¬life cycle and will be controlled via process conditions. This will allow nations where agriculture is challenging to either partially or completely divorce a portion of their food supply from the requirement for arable land. In conclusion, it is our hope that, by focusing on heart healthy fatty acids, we can not only reduce hunger, but also promote health via the increase of these compounds in the resultant animal products.