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Record-breaking itaconic acid titer reached

Some of the oldest and most established industrial biotechnology processes involve the fungal production of organic acids. Among these, itaconic acid is a very useful bio-based chemical for the production of a wide range of useful polymers. It also has antibacterial properties, and has recently been shown to be an important part of our own immune response. If biotechnological itaconic acid production can be made more efficient, this bio-based chemical could better compete with fossil counterparts, thereby contributing to the development of a more sustainable bioeconomy.

IBG-1 researchers in the department of Microbial Catalysis have now, along with the RWTH Aachen University, achieved a breakthrough in the efficiency of itaconic acid production. In the European project TTRAFFIC, together with partners from Italy, Denmark, Austria, Portugal, and the Netherlands, they have compared the production of itaconic acid by two very different fungi. This yielded valuable fundamental insights into the metabolic basis of itaconic acid production, especially concerning transport steps between fungal sub-compartments. This knowledge was used to optimize the yeast-like Ustilago maydis to efficiently convert sugar into itaconic acid. This organism is much easier to handle in a biotechnological process than traditionally used filamentous fungi, enabling the production of a record-breaking concentration of 220 g/l itaconic acid.

Overview of metabolic and (sub)cellular aspects of fungal itaconic acid productionOverview of metabolic and (sub)cellular aspects of fungal itaconic acid production. Enzymes specific to the filamentous Aspergillus terreus are indicated in red, yeast-like Ustilago maydis in green.