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Supersugar Extends Life of Organs
June 29, 2015   
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Scientists from the Gdańsk University of Technology in northern Poland have discovered an enzyme that enables the production of trehalose, an unusual sugar that makes it possible to keep organs intended for transplantation alive for longer.

The scientists discovered the enzyme while conducting research on so-called superbacteria.
Thanks to the discovery, trehalose will now be cheaper and easier to obtain. And this is worth the effort because it has an enormous number of applications.

Trehalose is a sugar that occurs naturally in the cells of fungi and yeast as well as bacteria, insects, eggs and certain plants. However, until now there was no technology that would enable its production on a larger scale. For the time being, despite its many potential applications, trehalose is produced in a relatively expensive, complicated way, using two different enzymes and complex substrates. Scientists want to reduce the cost and simplify the production process.

Researchers from the Faculty of Chemistry at the Gdańsk University of Technology have discovered an enzyme that they say will make it possible to produce trehalose. “We have found an enzyme that can produce trehalose in one step,” says PawełFilipkowski, Ph.D., a member of a team of researchers led by Prof. JózefSynowiecki from the Department of Chemistry, Food Technology and Biotechnology at the Gdańsk University of Technology’s Faculty of Chemistry.

The researchers discovered the enzyme by accident while conducting research on adapting Deinococcusgeothermalis bacteria to life in extreme conditions. These have been termed superbacteria because they are extremely resistant to various types of radiation and to dehydration. One of the factors that enables them to survive in such difficult conditions is the production of trehalose. The Gdańsk researchers have extracted the DNA from these superbacteria and forced other organisms to overproduce the enzyme enabling trehalose production. They did so using standard molecular biology and genetic engineering techniques.

The trehalose production method developed at the Gdańsk University of Technology, in addition to being cheap and fast, has other advantages as well. It produces few by-products that usually appear as a result of enzymatic reactions. Besides, the enzyme can be produced from readily available substances, such as maltose syrup and starch syrup.

The scientists have already filed for a patent for their process of obtaining the enzyme. Now they are looking for a business partner interested in producing either the enzyme or the sugar using the developed technology.

Trehalose has many potential applications. It can be used, for example, in the food and cosmetics industries, and particularly in medicine.

Compared with regular sugar used for sweetening tea, trehalose is less susceptible to moisture absorption and half as sweet on average. “Thanks to its specific structure, when added to a food product, trehalose makes it possible to conserve the aroma and protect confectionery products against moisture. It also makes it possible to maintain the texture of delicate frozen products, preventing the growth of ice crystals,” says Filipkowski.

This characteristic of trehalose can be used in medicine to extend the length of time that frozen tissues and organs intended for transplantation can be stored. The sugar is already used as a component of eye drops for patients suffering from dry eye syndrome.

“Some publications show that trehalose can also be used to fight osteoporosis,” says Filipkowski. “The results of the study have showed that daily consumption of this sugar with food may have a beneficial effect on bone metabolism and prevent osteoporosis.”

In the cosmetics industry, trehalose can be used as an ingredient of deodorants. It reduces the unpleasant smell of sweat caused by unsaturated aldehydes. Just a 2-percent solution of trehalose reduces the smell of sweat by 70 percent.

Olga Majewska
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