A surfactant is a substance usually made from petroleum. It reduces the surface or interfacial tension so that two usually immiscible liquids - such as oil and water - can be finely mixed. Surfactants are also washing-active substances found in various detergents and cleaning agents. Biosurfactants, on the other hand, are surfactant molecules produced by microorganisms on the basis of vegetable oil and sugar substrates. Their great advantage is their environmental friendliness. Produced from renewable raw materials, they have a high surfactant efficiency and are readily biodegradable. Biotechnologically produced rhamnolipids have recently found widespread use in household cleaners.
Sugar (sucrose) is an important source of energy for our bodies, but excessive consumption can lead to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. For this reason, alternatives are in high demand. One such alternative is erythritol, a so-called sugar alcohol that, at 70% of the sweetening power of household sugar, has no calories, lowers the tooth decay and reduces spikes in blood glucose levels. Unlike other commercially available sugar alcohols, erythritol is easy to digest, as most of it is not metabolised and is excreted through our kidneys. In nature, erythritol is found in various fruits such as pears, watermelons and grapes, but our body also produces small amounts itself every day. To produce erythritol biotechnologically, sugar is converted to erythritol with the help of microorganisms - similar to the fermentation of cheese. Erythritol, which is also available as organic erythritol, has been approved as a food additive in the European Union without any quantity restriction since 1997.
Hyaluronic acid is a multiple sugar with the ability to bind up to six litres of water per gram. This property comes in useful in our bodies, for example in our joint fluids as lubricant. In addition, hyaluronic acid, along with collagen in our connective tissue, ensures the elasticity of our skin. Unfortunately, the hyaluron content of the skin decreases with age. That is why hyaluronic acid is used in cosmetics to reduce wrinkles and increase the firmness of the skin. Hyaluronic acid used to be extracted from cockscombs, which is no longer necessary thanks to biotechnology. With microorganisms, hyaluronic acid can be produced naturally and in any quantity.
An enzyme - also called a ferment - is a biological catalyst that accelerates certain reactions. In principle, the catalysed reaction can also take place without the respective enzyme, but much more slowly. Microorganisms, just like us humans, use various enzymes to digest food such as proteins and fats. Since these are the very molecules that make up stains, these tools of nature are ideally suited for cleaning. In addition, a combination of different enzymes can be used to make special detergents that are suitable for removing difficult blood stains, for example. Enzymes are themselves biodegradable, which is why they can be used safely. They also save a lot of energy. While laundry had to be washed at very high temperatures in the past, enzymes can be used at low temperatures. This saves more than half of the energy used for washing, which is not only good for the wallet but also for the environment.
Rust occurs when metal reacts with oxygen. This causes a visible layer of rust to form on the surface, which if left untreated can spread and damage the metal. To remove rust, commercially available rust removers often use phosphoric acid. However, this aggressive chemical method poses risks to our health and the environment. Some bacteria, fungi and plants use metals as part of their diet, which is why they have developed natural tools to digest rust. By using these so-called siderophores (Greek: iron carriers), rust can be removed without endangering health and the environment. Since no acids are used, skin, objects and the environment are not harmed. In addition, less energy is needed in the production of the natural rust remover.
Plastics are polymers, i.e. long chains of molecules. Depending on how these chain links are connected, the properties of the plastic change. Since these petroleum-based, artificial substances barely break down in nature, they accumulate in our natural environment and lead to problems. Biopolymers such as polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) are formed in nature by many bacteria as a carbon reserve or energy store. Used biotechnologically, they have many advantages: they are produced from renewable raw materials with the help of microorganisms, serve as robust and non-toxic bioplastics and can ultimately be naturally composted.