Univeristy of Kent iGEM


The Problem

Many plants used in the scent industry are expensive to grow, and hard to come by. Fragrances such as roses, champaca, ginger and lavender are highly desirable and yet expensive to harvest, costing as much as $76 for 1ml of plant oil (1). Plant scent extraction is highly wasteful, oils make up around 5% of the total plant mass and average yields of oil in chemical extraction methods is around 0.5-1%. Acres of land is wasted to generate tiny amounts of useful products, and we believe this land can be put to much better use. Some scent plants, for example Indian sandalwood grows best in specific conditions and temperatures making them very costly to produce large amounts of. We have come up with a solution to this problem.

Currently, scent compounds are removed from plants after purification by CO2 extraction (2), this involves putting CO2 under large amounts of pressure to form a gas, making it adherent and able to bind to the liquid solvent. The solvent is then able to diffuse across the membrane purifying it from the other products. This process is very costly, the high pressure chamber is expensive and the process is prone to contamination from pesticides that have been used to help the plants to grow with resistance to pests. There is also very little information on the health and safety of this process, as with any high pressure procedure there is risk of explosion, the pesticides may also be harmful to humans and workers must be trained to operate the machinery properly.

We aim to generate these scents in E Coli, by entering enzymes into their genomes that can produce scented compounds, driving down the cost of crop growth and freeing up land for other uses, such as the world hunger problem or preventing deforestation for farmland. We chose Zingiberence synthase (produces ginger scent) and R-linalool synthase( produces lavender scent) to illustrate how E coli can generate scents in a more cost efficient and higher yielding way. Ginger is currently produced using the CO2 extraction method and is expensive to buy, costing $517 for 1kg of red oil(3), we are producing this scent compound in E Coli alongside R-linalool to prove that these high end scents can be produced more cheaply. Recent studies have shown that there is a push towards developing perfumes in alternative ways, this give our project idea the scope to be successful and profitable (4).

(1) Jeff Callahan. (2013). 21 Most expensive Essential Oils in the World.Available: Last accessed 17/10/2104.   
(2) N/A. (2010). The Methods of Extracting Essential Oils are Still Being Proven. Available: Last accessed 17/10/2104. 
(3) N/A. (2014). Ginger CO2- Organic. Available: Last accessed 17/10/2104. 
(4) Erika Check Hayden. (2014). Synthetic biology firms shift focus.Available: Last accessed 17/10/2104.