Synthetizing saffron? It is possible now
To produce the molecules of saffron flowers, in large quantities, at low cost and with high levels of purity is the objective of the method designed and patented by ENEA to produce one of the most expensive spices in the world.
ENEA biotechnological method manages to reproduce crocine, one of the three components of saffron, which accumulates in the yellow part of stigmas, used as dyes for painting and as food ingredients. Crocine has antioxidant properties and protective functions against some degenerative diseases of the retina and certain types of cancer and is extremely difficult to synthetize chemically.
“This method is the only way to produce crocins in large quantities, given the impossibility of obtaining them through chemical synthesis and the seasonality of the plant, which blooms only once a year”, said Olivia Costantina Demurtas, a researcher of ENEA Biotechnology Laboratory, one of the patent authors. “Furthermore, the patent allows to obtain pigments at costs up to 100 times lower than those of natural origin and with such levels of purity that they can also be used in biomedicine”.
The method designed, published in Plant Physiology, has also brought Olivia Costantina Demurtas to win one of the “Hausmann & Co and Patek Philippe – Award for talented young people”, established to reward young Italian excellences.
Moreover, the system patented by ENEA has also allowed to identify innovative methods of genetic engineering to produce crocine in bacteria, yeasts or plants other than saffron, by identifying the genes involved in the production of crocine, with the results being published in Scientific report.