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White Paper: Production of Cannabinoids using biotechnology and synthetic chemistry as a path to sustainability

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Written by Istok NahtigalHead of Process And Applied Sciences

Biosynthetic precision fermentation is becoming increasingly important on environmental grounds and the developments in the underlying technology that make this production method possible have created many opportunities for more sustainably produced compounds to be obtained across multiple industries. Society today is replete with numerous examples where compounds created via biosynthetic processes feature in everyday products and medicines. For instance, the precision fermentation techniques that produce Cellular Goods’ products featuring lab-made Cannabidiol (CBD) and Cannabigerol (CBG) that are molecularly identical to field produced compounds, are being used for creating consumer goods not just in cannabinoids, but also lab-made vanilla extract, replacement human hormones, and alternative dairy products using lab-made lactose.

One of the first applications of this biotechnology dates to the earliest days of ancient Egyptian civilization, 1300-1500 BCE [1], when brewing beer and baking bread were first practiced. Both activities employ a microorganism (yeast) to produce a desired output, in these cases, alcohol and bread. As these practices evolved, selective breeding was employed and still is today to bring out advantageous attributes [2]. The 1970s ushered in genetic engineering which has accelerated development in the field, conferring the ability to make changes in the organisms' genetic material [3]. Further advances in biotechnology coupled with computational power has provided a deeper understanding of the potential for modifications of a given biological system.

All living organisms naturally change over time; plants especially with domestication, where desired phenotypic traits are selected for. As a result, crops tend to have a biological and economic limit for being a platform for producing useful bio-products, such as foods and molecules that can be used in other non food industries. To compensate for this limitation, biotechnology has been employed to copy biosynthetic pathways from plant systems and insert these replicated processes into microorganisms such as bacteria and yeast. This type of molecular biology has generally been employed when a desired metabolite present in a plant crop cannot be economically produced or recovered from the original plant itself [4]. Single celled organisms can be grown in large vessels with high efficiency, free from contaminants and over short periods of time, each functioning as independent metabolite factories [5]. Recently, Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMOs), important components of human milk that are linked to promoting infant health,have been produced using this technology. One of the most common HMOs, Fucosylated oligosaccharides, have been reported to offer gut health benefits that can now be used as a functional food ingredient as a result of lab-made HMO production [33]. Bioengineering has also been used to produce key malaria drug artemisinin (used to treat multi-drug resistant strains of malaria), by using engineered yeast to manufacture the compound in industrial production when previously it could only be obtained from plant material [34]. Elsewhere, biotechnology such as this is routinely used to produce antibiotics, flavors, natural flavanones, pigments and terpenes.

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