Can synthetic palm oil help save the world’s tropical forests?

On Zoom, Kelleher showed a blue photo of Xylome’s proprietary yeast strain Lipomyces stellariaeThrough a microscope, yeast is similar to dish soap. “What you see is squashed yeast,” he said. “Because these yeasts produce a large amount of oil, they are pressed to the outer wall.” This genetically modified strain that feeds on corn syrup is able to give most of its total weight to lipids. “If we continue to feed ourselves sugar, they will do what we do,” Kelleher said. “They got bigger.”

In 2013, Jeffries, the current Xylome president, noticed that the oil of this strain is very similar to palm oil, which is highly regarded for its unique blend of saturated and unsaturated fats. This mixture is solid at room temperature and liquid at body temperature-perfect for chocolate coatings, soaps and cosmetics. Other parts of multifunctional palm oil are used as fuels, solvents, lubricants, and many other products, especially in China, India, and Indonesia.

The similarity between yeast oil and palm oil was discovered by accident-Xylome is looking for diesel. But Jeffries and Kelleher realized that when Kelleher’s daughter told him that people were increasingly interested in palm oil-free cosmetics to solve environmental problems that had been identified over the years, palm oil alternatives might Make a difference. International radicalism Targeting unsustainable palm oil.

According to a 2018 report, although palm oil production accounts for less than 1% of global deforestation Report From the International Union for Conservation of Nature, it is the main cause of tropical deforestation. For example, in Borneo, oil palm cultivation accounted for more than half of all deforestation in the past two decades. Future demand may lead to more deforestation. The same report found that more than 1 million square miles of biodiversity hotspots may be threatened by oil palm cultivation, which may affect more than 40% of threatened birds, mammals and amphibians, from orangutans and tigers to fly traps and large animals. elephant.This deforestation also caused emission of greenhouse gasesBecause the carbon-rich peat accumulated under the virgin forest was drained, the trees were burned to clear the land for planting.

After recognizing these effects, the supplier-through Sustainable Palm Oil Roundtable (RSPO) has been certifying the palm oil supply chain since 2007 and has been seeking ways to strengthen the supervision of palm oil production to ensure that crops are not grown on biodiversity or carbon-rich land. Janice Lee, an environmental scientist who studies palm oil at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said that although more and more palm growers are certified, this approach has limitations. For example, it is difficult to certify smallholder growers, who collectively represent the majority of palm oil production in certain regions. “Certification is not a panacea,” she said. About 20% of palm oil production is RSPO certified.

Facts have proved that finding alternatives to palm oil is more challenging. The output of other tropical oils (such as coconut oil) is lower than that of oil palm, and the impact will be even greater if they are planted on the same scale. Other non-tropical oils (such as soybean oil or corn oil) can be grown outside of tropical regions with rich biodiversity, but they require additional processing to replace palm oil in many applications. This kind of processing is costly and produces trans fats. The FDA banned this fat in the United States in 2015.

Kelleher and Jeffries decided to market their yeast as a better alternative. The oil produced by the microorganisms in their laboratory has almost the same lipid profile as palm oil. “Bugs”, as they call yeast, can also be fed with materials that do not require tropical agriculture, such as corn or sugarcane, or waste materials such as corn husks and wheat straw, which can greatly reduce production costs. Microbial oils can also be used in any Local production, thereby shortening the distance between factories and consumers.

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