The firm, a subsidiary of Spanish penicillin company Antibioticos, is hoping to market lycopene synthesised from B.trispora for use as a nutritional food ingredient and dietary supplement in Europe.
The lycopene market is expanding significantly, with growth rates forecast at over 100 per cent by market analysts Frost & Sullivan. But the ingredient is still relatively new (worth $34 million in 2003) and is largely derived from tomato extraction. New synthetic forms, such as one produced by BASF but not yet available in Europe, will attempt to lift this figure further and could one day offer a cheaper alternative to current options.
Expansion is being driven by the rising interest in preventative health measures by Europe's ageing population. An antioxidant powerhouse, recent studies suggest that lycopene could play a signficant role in beating a raft of cancers - including prostate and breast cancer - as well as helping to prevent heart disease. Some studies have however suggested that a combination of different components in tomatoes (the basis of most studies on lycopene) are behind the protective effect, rather than lycopene alone.
Blakeslea trispora is a fungus that synthesises large quantities of carotenoids. Vitatene manufactures lycopene by co-fermentation of two strains of the fungus. Lycopene is then extracted using solvents from the fermentation broth and finally formulated into an oil suspension, with added tocopherol, for packaging
The EU Scientific Committee on Food approved the safety of beta-carotene obtained by fermentation of Blakeslea trispora in 2000. If approved as a new lycopene source, the ingredient could be added to various products such as soft drinks, cereal bars and energy tablets.
"The safety of lycopene from B. trispora is based on the purity of lycopene from B.trispora (> 95%), the conformity between biosynthetically derived lycopene in nature andchemically derived lycopene from B. trispora, and the historical consumption of lycopene as anormal component of the diet, for example, from red fruits and vegetables," said the company in its application dossier.
A dossier that satisfied the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP), an independent committee of scientists appointed by the UK Food Standards Agency, provided that Vitatene adheres to 'theproposed specification, and the production parameters described,' it said this week.
Lycopene, a carotenoid extracted from tomatoes with a solvent, is approved for use as an additive (E160d) and is used as an ingredient in a range of foods and dietary supplements. Synthetic lycopene is also used as a food ingredient, but is not permitted for use as a colour additive.
Comments on the proposed approval should be sent to the ACNFP Secretariat by 11 March 2004.