There’s the easy way to make grapefruit juice—squeeze a grapefruit—and then there’s the scientific way. The advantage of the latter? You end up with millions of times more juice.
According to an article in Science Daily, scientists at the Austrian Research Centre of Industrial Biotechnology have figured out a way to make Nootkatone—the compound that gives grapefruit its distinct flavor—from regular sugar: a far more effective and cheaper method of obtaining the substance than trying to extract it from actual grapefruits. This breakthrough is considered significant because Nootkatone is currently extremely expensive (more than $4,000 per kilogram) and has a wide array of uses beyond simply being a flavoring component. It is also used in the pharmaceutical industries and works as a natural insect repellant.
In the past, researchers have figured out ways to synthesize Nootkatone by using chemical processes, but this new method is considered simpler and more environmentally friendly. It uses biotechnology to alter the genome of yeast cells. “We have installed new genetic information in the yeast Pichia pastoris, so that our cells are able to produce Nootkatone from sugar,” researcher Tamara Wriessnegger was quoted as saying. The result is that the compound found in one grapefruit can be transformed into enough flavor for millions of liters of juice.
According to Harald Pichler, another researcher on ACIB’s team, “With our method, the important and expensive terpenoid Nootkatone can be produced industrially in an environmentally friendly, economical and resource-saving way in useful quantities.” All that’s left is to find someone who’s thirsty enough to drink a million liters of grapefruit juice.