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Biological Systems and Flavors: Science, Technology and Applications

By: Ivica Labuda, PhD, Biokeys for Flavors, LLC
Posted: November 13, 2008, from the November 2008 issue of P&F magazine.

Imaginative implementation of new scientific understanding leads to original creations and applications. Recent developments are captured in a number of excellent reviews on natural flavor and fragrance molecules.1 Here, the intention is to provide selected examples of how science, when transformed into technology, can successfully address the ever-changing market needs.

The biological systems considered here include plants, microorganisms and enzymes. For simplicity, the technologies that utilize such biological systems will be referred to as applied biotechnology. These processes employ whole or part of living cells, which can be natural or genetically engineered. One advantage of biotechnological processes is that they yield natural stereoselective and enantioselective products.

It is important to recognize that, at the present time, only a fraction of these processes involve genetically manipulated organisms and enzymes. This is a consequence of the market demanding clean, organic and all natural flavor and fragrance materials. At the same time the tools of molecular biology, metabolic and translational engineering are employed to build scientific understanding. These tools are also used as a guide for identifying important traits in production organisms and enzymes. These modern tools of DNA manipulation deliver more controlled and precise changes than the traditional hybridization techniques.

Sensory systems is another area where scientific progress has had critical impact, since olfaction and taste are the key instruments for evaluating flavors and aromas. The industry has greatly benefited from recent progress made in understanding receptors, signal transduction, neurobiology and sensory. In particular, molecular biology is an essential tool to elucidate the biochemistry of taste and olfaction. This new knowledge is translated into methods for the discovery of taste modifiers and masking compounds to offset undesirable taste and olfaction characters.

Additionally, biotechnology can be instrumental in manufacturing; for example in selecting raw plant materials, improving downstream processes and waste management.