Quantitative Bioeconomy

The aim of the research area Quantitative Bioeconomy is to establish or optimize the utilisation of plants and agricultural or horticultural plant residuals for extraction of plant compounds for bioeconomy.

Plants are a crucial component the human diet, providing carbohydrates, fat and proteins and vitamins. In addition, plants produce secondary or special metabolites with various biological properties. Medicinal and aromatic plants are cultivated commercially because of the properties of their secondary metabolites, but also agri- and horticulturally grown plants contain special metabolites.

Secondary plant metabolites are also used in various industries including the cosmetics industry and the pharmaceutical industry. Developing a better understanding of relevant biosynthetic pathways, involved genes and their regulation will help to optimise the utilisation of plants by increasing the amount and the extractability of relevant metabolites.


Utilization of plant secondary metabolism for production of high value products in plants

Plant secondary metabolites are essential components of the human diet, utilised as phytomedicines and routinely used as industrial raw materials and high-value fine chemicals. Chemically, secondary metabolites exhibit an enormous diversity and complexity, which makes their industrial chemical synthesis difficult and expensive. Agriculture and horticulture produces large quantities of plant biomass residues as by-products. Utilizing such by-products for extraction of secondary metabolites would lead to added value of crop production. Plants increase the production of secondary metabolites in response to abiotic and biotic stress.

In our BioSC NRW funded project “InducTomE- Induction of secondary metabolites in tomato by-products for extraction and economic evaluation of the model process”, we aim to identify abiotic stress treatments to induce the accumulation of two secondary metabolites (rutin and solanesol) in tomato by-products to high amounts. A conceptual process design is being developed for an extraction process and its economic feasibility is evaluated. In addition, co-induced secondary metabolites are being identified by metabolite profiling and RNAseq analysis and their market entry potential will also be evaluated. As a long-term prospect, the developed process concept will be transferable to other waste streams and metabolites, thereby playing a pivotal role in the successful development of a bioeconomy perspective.

The BMBF funded project „TaReCa - Tailoring of secondary metabolism in horticultural residuals and cascade utilization for a resource efficient production of valuable bioactive compounds“ aims at the development of a tailored cascade utilization of bell pepper residues, to exploit add-on value by combining the production of vegetables with subsequent extraction of valuable plant secondary metabolites (SM). The interdisciplinary project partners aim to explore the potential of tailoring secondary metabolism in residuals from bell pepper production by stresses applied in production greenhouses. The project will focus on the flavonoid cynaroside, which is of interest for the cosmetic, food and pharmaceutical industries due to its antioxidant, antimicrobial and cancer-preventive properties. As many SM have such beneficial properties, leaves and stems from stress-treated bell pepper plants will be screened for additional induced metabolites, followed by analysis of market potential and entry options/barriers as well as investigations on extractability. This generates the potential for the production of bioactive compounds for multiple market segments. The project drives the development of environmentally-friendly, economic extraction and purification processes which will be coupled to a potential utilization of the remaining plant material in a biorefinery to further increase the value chain. The double or even triple utilization of horticultural production chains for food and tailored compounds will generate novel, affordable and economically relevant products for industrial applications.