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Given demographic change, healthy ageing is an increasingly important topic for policy-makers, business and society in general. While new requirements are arising for the health care system, there are also new opportunities for innovations in this broad thematic area. Dr Dirk Sombroek talks about the NatLifE 2020 innovation alliance to which this issue is devoted.

The rise in lifestyle diseases, growing costs in the health care system, increasingly scarce resources and the growing awareness of environmental and safety-related responsibility have given greater weight to the researching, development and marketing of products that contain effective and sustainably produced ingredients. Since the relevant scientific and technical challenges can best be addressed on a cross-disciplinary basis, the Natural Life Excellence Network 2020 (NatLife 2020) promoted by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) as part of its industrial biotechnology innovation initiative offers the ideal conditions for developing new concepts and products.

Logo Nat Life

In four different sub-programmes, the NatLife alliance partners have been working since 2013 to develop sustainable production processes and new test systems for innovative bioactive ingredients, proteins and small molecules for the food and cosmetics industries. The diverse fields of application include reducing the number of calories in processed foods and improving formulations for cosmetic actives. Beyond this, the aim is to establish sustainable production processes by using waste streams or by avoiding competition over farmland when obtaining plant biomass.

Among the key thematic areas of NatLife 2020 are innovative active ingredients for cosmetics or aluminium-free antiperspirants with a biological effect. Excellent work during the first phase of the alliance in the field of biological sweat reduction led to the description of an ion channel as the new key player in primary sweat formation. Based on these findings, BRAIN succeeded in establishing an innovative test system that is used to identify novel active substances (see article by Dr Torsten Ertongur-Fauth in this issue of Blickwinkel). These active substances are being further developed into cosmetic ingredients in the ongoing second phase of the alliance.

Apart from ion channels, BRAIN is also examining other molecular targets (usually membrane-bound receptors). Among them are G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) that are relevant for sun tanning, for instance. NatLife 2020 also focuses on caring for and harmonising the skin microbiome. This research concerns both the preservation of cosmetic formulations and of new active substances against problematic bacteria (e.g. in connection with acne or dandruff).

As part of BMBF’s industrial biotechnology innovation initiative, several strategic alliances work together along various value chains to harness the potential of industrial biotechnology for climate change mitigation and resource conservation and for sustainable manufacturing processes. The clear aim of these activities is to establish competitive products and economically viable processes.

NatLife 2020 is one of currently eight strategic alliances. In order to achieve their ambitious aims, they have to pass three phases, each lasting three years: a research, development and pilot phase. The promotion of NatLife 2020 began in February 2013. A committee of consultants appointed by BMBF subjected the work of the alliance to a scientific and economic review at the end of 2015, following the first three-year research phase. The committee recommended that promotion be continued during the second phase. This development phase started in March 2016 and will end on schedule in the first quarter of 2019. The pilot phase, in which the developed ingredients and processes are to be brought to market stage, is currently being prepared.

The NatLife 2020 alliance currently comprises 22 partners from industry and research, among them BRAIN AG and its subsidiary AnalytiCon Discovery GmbH, AB Enzymes GmbH, Henkel AG & Co. KGaA, Phyton Biotech GmbH and the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Marine Biotechnology and Cell Technology in Lübeck. In terms of content, NatLife links up various BRAIN research areas ranging from strain development to the development of active ingredients.

Industrial biotechnology 
innovation initiative

BMBF launched the industrial biotechnology innovation initiative in 2011 as the first promotion measure within the BioEconomy 2030 National Research Strategy. The aim of the initiative is to introduce bio-based industrial processes. Strategic research and development alliances are intended to accelerate structural change towards bio-based industry.

Alliances led by one company each with a potential commercial interest in the final research results were invited to take part in the first competitive tender. The specific aim was to bring together industrial sectors that had not previously cooperated with each other in order to create synergies and close technology gaps through an efficient and interdisciplinary approach.

The first three strategic alliances to be promoted were presented at ACHEMA in Frankfurt in June 2012. They included the Natural Life Excellence Network 2020 (NatLifE 2020) and Zero Carbon Footprint (ZeroCarbFP)*. BRAIN currently acts as the coordinator of both these strategic alliances.

* You can find information on the ZeroCarbFP innovation alliance in the Blickwinkel issue entitled ‘Circular’.

Dirk Sombroek

Dr Dirk Sombroek

Dr Dirk Sombroek studied chemistry at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg and obtained his doctorate at Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg. During this time he performed research at the German Cancer Research Centre (DKFZ) in Heidelberg. He joined BRAIN in 2010, where he now works as a project manager and platform coordinator. Within the BioActives & Performance Biologicals research area, Sombroek coordinates the activities of the NatLife 2020 innovation alliance.

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