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Spider and snake enzymes could deliver healthy food

By Jess Halliday , 10-Mar-2010

Danisco is starting a new four-year research project to investigate potential uses of enzymes produced by spiders, snakes and carnivorous plants as processing aids for food and other industrial uses.

The Danish food ingredients company has received a grant of DKK 24m from the Danish Council for Strategic Research, as part of a wider project to investigate enzymes from overlooked species.

Charlotte Poulsen of Danisco’s enzyme division Genencor said: “When a spider catches a fly in its web, it injects digestive enzymes into its prey to liquefy it. This makes it easy for the spider to devour the fly. The digestive enzymes are highly effective and we are very keen on looking into the dynamics of these enzymes.”

Poulsen told FoodNavigator.com that in the past it has been very hard to obtain the DNA from digestive enzymes, as a reptile, arachnid or plant will only excrete it when it has caught its prey. This means that the enzyme DNA becomes polluted with that of the prey.

However researchers at the research institute with which Danisco has partnered have found that if a plant is put on a magnetic stirrer, the shaking that occurs when a magnet is applied makes it think it has captured some prey. This makes it possible to harvest the uncontaminated enzyme.

The first stage of the project will be extraction of the enzyme DNA, followed by cloning and expression. The team will then look at the functionality and try to understand the mechanism of action.

There is no guarantee at this early stage that the project will yield enzymes that can be commercialised, but Poulsen said the greatest potential for food would be in bioactive peptides with health benefits such as boosting immunity or lowering blood pressure.

No specific snake or spider species of particular potential have been identified yet, but on the plant side Venus fly traps will be studied.

Poulsen added that the company is not planning to offer enzymes extracted from the original snake, spider or plant sources.

“If one should make it into a commercial enzyme, it would definitely be a version produced by a micro-organism”.

Wider project

Danisco’s work is part of a wide project funded by the Danish Council for Strategic Research. Poulsen explained that a team from Novozymes, Arla Foods and other reseach institutes also proposed a project to look into enzymes from unexplored sources – although not snake and spiders. The council decided to that the proposals should be combined under the same broad project.

Poulsen said it is quite possible that the research institutes may share some findings, but the companies are not likely to work together on their respective projects directly.

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