Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), is a water-soluble compound, which can be synthesized by plants and microorganisms but not by animals, making it essential for humans and animals to access through their diet. Manufactured riboflavin is used in a variety of applications, including food and feeds, pharmaceuticals and as a food colouring.
For almost five decades, commercial riboflavin was produced almost exclusively by a complex, multi-step chemical synthesis starting from glucose, with low yield at only ~60% and the use of hazardous agents.
However, over the last 15 years, production has shifted towards a single step biotechnological production process, starting from vegetable as carbon sources and using a genetically engineered bacterium (Bacillus subtilis) or fungus (Ashbya gossypii), replacing 50 years of chemical production in just a few years.
Today, almost all vitamin B2 used for human nutrition and health applications as well as in animal feed is now produced biotechnologically, reducing the effect on the environment, compared to the chemical synthesis. Life Cycle analyses demonstrated:
• >70% reduction in fossil raw materials
• >65% reduction in waste water
• ~50% reduction in exhaust emissions
Overall, the ecological fingerprint clearly shows the environmental advantages of biotechnological production. In addition, the products have an excellent safety profile, due to the use of a one-step process and a production microorganism with a long history of safe use, using only renewable raw materials through the entire process.
European companies (primarily BASF and DSM) have led the way to completely transform commercial vitamin B2 production and make it more sustainable, following early industrial development by companies such as Merck.
Image Ashbya gossypii (BASF)
- Biotechnology of riboflavin, Schwechheimer et al., Appl. Microbiol. Biotechnol. (2016) 100:2107–2119, DOI 10.1007/s00253-015-7256-z
- Unlocking Nature’s Biosynthetic Power—Metabolic Engineering for the Fermentative Production of Chemicals, Wiley Online Library