Taste-Maker Allylix Prepares to Make “Nootkatone” a Household Word, as San Diego Gains Momentum in Industrial Biotechnology

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terpenes in minute quantities for a variety of functions, and when I talked recently with Allylix CEO Carolyn Fritz, I got a 30-minute lessen in plant biology that was just a taste of what the company is up to.

One of the cool things she told me is that plants typically evoke terpenes in response to an environmental condition of some kind. So when insects attack a plant—a pine tree, for example—the tree responds to the attack by exuding a flypaper-sticky terpene resin. (This resin can be distilled to make turpentine.) Other types of terpenes are highly valued for other characteristics. Fritz says a geranium flower evokes a terpene that is actually a rose scent, to attract insects that will pollinate it. Terpenes also can be anti-viral and anti-fungal. Steroids are terpenes. Carotenoids are terpenes. Other terpenes are cytotoxins, which make them valuable in treating cancer.

Pine Tree resin

Pine Tree resin

Altogether, Fritz said terpenes comprise a huge class of molecules that include hundreds of thousands of compounds. As a result, terpenes have significant commercial value to the industries focused on pharmaceuticals, insect repellants, and flavors and fragrances.

“From a commercial perspective, they are very interesting,” Fritz says. “They are also chemically very complex, and very hard to make.”

As an example, Fritz says trying to chemically synthesize a specific terpene would typically yield equal amounts of four seemingly identical “twin” compounds with fundamentally … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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