New-to-nature biosurfactants by metabolic engineering: production and application

Scope of the project

This project aims to create new-to-nature and tailor-made biosurfactants through metabolic engineering of the unconventional yeast Starmerella bombicola.
Surfactants or surface active agents are applied in a wide range of industries and products e.g. cleaning, personal care, cosmetics, agriculture, oil recovery, paper industry. Surfactants are produced in large amounts of which the majority is used in households for laundry and cleaning. This results in large volumes of waste water ending up in the environment.

Biosurfactants offer a credible alternative to their chemically derived counterparts with equal performance. They are produced from sustainable renewable resources by a biological process (fermentation) which offers clear ecological advantages such as low eco-toxicity and good biodegradability. Despite the clear
advantages of biosurfactants, their overall use is hampered by the lack of structural variation. Structural variation is essential as (bio) surfactants are applicable in a very broad range of sectors.

This project aims to alleviate this fundamental limitation by developing a generic biotechnological production technology for glycolipid biosurfactants. This will significantly broaden the range of commercially available biosurfactants, satisfying the need for structural diversity in the market. It is expected that this technology will result in a breakthrough penetration of glycolipid biosurfactants in the overall surfactant market. The ultimate goal is to get everyday products containing biosurfactants on the supermarket shelf, and to help build, as such, the biobased economy.


  • Cleaning: ecological alternative to traditional chemically produced detergents, good biodegradability
  • Biological: antimicrobial, wound healing, anti-cancer activity
  • Cosmetics: good skin compatibility Nanomaterials: complexing properties