The Saffron biosynthesis project within the NGBC group Copyright: © Biotec

Saffron has been used as a spice, for food coloring, and for applications in traditional medicine stretching back to antiquity. Today, its medical relevance has been confirmed on different levels, ranging from applications in cancer treatment, eye regeneration, as an antioxidant or even antidepressant. However, saffron is the most expensive spice on earth. It is manually harvested from the flowers of the saffron flower Crocus sativus by collecting the red stigma from the blooms. Roughly 150’000 plants are required to yield 1 kilogram of raw saffron. Hence, the natural sources of saffron cannot account for the amounts required for affordable medicinal applications on a global scale. It would thus be of great interest to produce these constituents by biotechnological means.

The basic biosynthetic pathway of saffron apo-carotenoids has been elucidated. However, little is known about the enzymes involved. Our research focuses on different pillars in the context of biotechnological saffron production. The discovery of enzymes involved in the synthesis of saffron constituents is carried out in cooperation with the group of Professor Björn Usadel from the Institute of Botany and Molecular Genetics at the RWTH Aachen. Together with the group of Professor Karl-Erich Jaeger from the Institute of Molecular Enzyme Technology at the Research Center Juelich and Düsseldorf University, microbial chassis are developed, in which the newly discovered and engineered enzyme variants will be implemented. The NGBC sub-division will establish microbial production platforms, in vitro conversion assays and analytics as well as high-throughput screening systems for the enzymes in question.

In the Saffron project, we team up with…

  • Prof. Dr. Karl-Erich Jaeger / Dr. Thomas Drepper / Dr. Anita Loeschcke – HHU Düsseldorf; Institute for Molecular Enzyme Technology (IMET) @ Research Centre Juelich (FZ Juelich)
  • Prof. Dr. Björn Usadel – RWTH Aachen; Institute of Botany and Molecular Genetics
  • Division Molecular Bioeconomy – headed by Dr. Anna Joëlle Ruff