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Bioengineering at industrial scales

The Hungarian Institute of Biotechnology has the exclusive rights of a new, patented process for producing at industrial scales malic acid. Malic acid, a white crystalline solid, is extensively used in the pharmaceutical and food industry and may eventually offer an alternative to the non-degradable plastics.
Bioengineering at industrial scales
Malic acid, a hydroxy acid, is an optically active organic compound. Its (L) or (-) optical isomer is produced naturally in a cyclical series of biochemical reactions, fundamental to the metabolism of animals and plants, known as citric acid cycle, or Krebs cycle. It is also found in the juice of unripe fruits, like green apples.

A very efficient technology for industrial scale production of malic acid has been invented that is both more efficient and induces fewer costs than methods currently used. Biosynthesis produces only the biologically active L-form using genetically enhanced, immobilised, and killed microorganisms. Their genetic alteration affects their catalytic potential by increasing it a thousand times. A continuous flow bioreactor is being used that essentially converts fumarate to malic acid with a minimum half life of 600 days. As a substrate ammonium-fumarate or sodium-fumarate is used and the bioreactor produces no unwanted bypass products like amino acids or other organic acids from the substrate. A 20 litres reactor is able to produce approximately 30 tons of L-malate per year. The method, since its using genetically modified but killed cells, induces no harm to the environment, neither does it pose any danger to human health.

The quantities of L-malic acid produced from this biosynthetic method are obviously at industrial scales and will be used by the pharmaceutical and food industry. Malate though may have yet another very important environmental application since the possibility exists for using it for the production of biodegradable polymers that may eventually replace the non-degradable plastics.
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