From anti-ageing creams and food supplements to bio-composites, plants are commonly used in our daily life. As a sustainable alternative, these natural resources contribute to the development of renewable products. However, they are increasingly overexploited. The use of biotechnologies has thus become a key approach to valorizing plants as renewable resources, while preventing environmental degradation. On the occasion of the International Conference PlantTech, organized by LIST in 2021* in Belvaux, Jean-François Hausman, Gea Guerriero and Sylvain Legay from the Plant Biotechnologies group answered our three questions on the subject.
Plants have a wide array of properties that are of great interest for the pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, cosmetic or even agrochemical sectors. Researchers, engineers and manufacturers work together on the valorization chain of plant resources in order to transfer a key characteristic of a plant, cell, tissue or organ into the development of renewable products. In this context, biotechnologies can enable scientists to modulate the molecular properties of plants. As an example, bioreactors make it possible to cultivate a high number of plant cells that produce molecules of interest. These closed environments, in which we can control various parameters, have the advantage of not requiring an intensive use of natural resources. Moreover, the cultivation in bioreactors prevents any risk of contamination, for example, from fungi, bacteria or pesticides.
The culture of plant cells using biotechnology is an approach that is still not widely used in the scientific community. However, there is a considerable interest in producing plant-based molecules, for the cosmetic or pharmaceutical industries, for example. The LIST Plant Biotechnologies group is working on several research projects aiming to provide such manufacturers with concrete and sustainable alternatives. By modulating the genetic parameters of e.g. apple cells, as well as those of the bioreactors in which they are growing, LIST researchers managed to optimize the production of a molecule of interest named triterpene. This has, amongst others, an anti-ageing property, which is able to prevent a premature ageing of the skin by inhibiting human enzymes responsible for the decrease in skin elasticity. Triterpenes also have a strong anti-inflammatory property, which could be of great interest to the nutraceutical sector. These plant biotechnologies can be used not only in apple cells, but also in numerous other plant cells in order to produce molecules of interest with a high yield.
In order to scale up from lab to market, the valorization chain of plant resources involves many different but complementary scientific disciplines. The International Conference PlantTech 2021 envisions covering the whole valorization chain and fostering the synergy between experts at each step of the process. Indeed, industrial applications could not even be conceivable in the first place without biodiversity mining. This discipline takes action at the start of the chain by looking for the interesting molecules in an existing plant. Experts can subsequently modulate the production of components at the genetic level, while other experts ensure a high-yield production of the molecule in collaboration with industrial partners. These scientific partnerships between research and industry will also be illustrated during the event in the special session sponsored by PM-International, one of LIST’s industrial partners.
*Due to the current Coronavirus pandemic, the organization committee has officially decided to postpone the International Conference PlantTech 2020, set to take place on 6-9 July 2020, to 2021. The new dates for the event will be proposed once the situation has improved.