nEuRGO - Sustainable production of an antioxidant for healthy aging
This idea is a part of 360 Challenge 2019
Globally, life expectancy is going up. As the global population ages more and more, the incidence of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s increases. These diseases currently do not have a proper cure or treatment and thus put a huge strain on health care systems. Ergothioneine, a naturally occurring antioxidant from mushrooms, is shown to have very promising effects in neurodegenerative diseases, delaying or in favourable cases altogether preventing the onset of symptoms.
The biggest issue with obtaining this compound is that humans can only get it through their diet by eating mushrooms. However, for significant protection one would have to eat up to 9 portions of mushrooms a week, something not everyone is capable of or wants. Next to that, chemical synthesis of this antioxidant is inefficient and costly, while extracting it from mushrooms is not scalable. Therefore, the price of this precious compound is very high ($600,000 / kg), making it unsuitable for general consumption.
We have adapted the natural production of ergothioneine into yeast, so that we can sustainably produce the antioxidant using fermentation. Compared to the chemical synthesis, we can use a simple sugar as a starting material without using any environmentally unfriendly compounds or solvents to produce the antioxidant. Next to that, the process is much cheaper than current chemical synthesis, such that the price would be low enough for general consumption as a dietary supplement.
Next to the important role it would play in healthy aging, this antioxidant has the potential to prevent browning of foodstuffs. Although this avenue is still not as extensively investigated, our antioxidant could potentially have major use as a natural preservative and replace chemical preservation of food.
The team consists of 5 members who have extensive knowledge and experience in the area of biotechnology. Dr. Irina Borodina is the CTO of BioPhero and group leader at DTU Biosustain, specializing in metabolic engineering. Dr. Douglas Kell is a Research Professor at Liverpool University and is angel/board advisor at several tech companies. He used to run the UK BBSRC (turnover £500M). Steven van der Hoek is a PhD candidate with experience in the pharmaceutical industry. Jens Kindtler is an experienced business research leader with many successful biosustainability projects. Dr. Andreas Worberg is leading research in Bioengineering and the scale-up of projects.
We are entering the challenge under the 'grassroots' category.