Mars researchers share low-calorie sugar substitute breakthrough

Posted: 25 October 2023 | | No comments yet

A scalable production technique for low-calorie sugar substitutes has been discovered by Mars researchers.


Scientists at the University of California, Davis, working in partnership with the Mars Advanced Research Institute, have announced a “significant breakthrough” in the production of low-calorie sugar substitutes, such as allulose.

They claim that their discovery could help to address one of the primary obstacles to the widespread adoption of these alternatives: production costs.

Allulose, also known as D-psicose, is a naturally occurring rare sugar that provides a viable alternative to sucrose (table sugar). It has a similar taste, texture and functionality, making it an attractive option for those seeking to reduce their sugar intake.

Through activating a natural process in a microorganism, researchers have developed a method for high-yield and high-purity production through precise fermentation. They claim that this advance has the potential to “greatly enhance the affordability and accessibility of these products”.

Allulose provides nearly 70 percent flavour and sweet taste as sucrose, yet it is minimally metabolised as it passes through the body. By incorporating it into food products, individuals can reduce their calorie intake from sugar while still satisfying their desire for sweet flavours. Additionally, allulose has an imperceptible effect on blood glucose and insulin levels, according to the scientists.

“Allulose is a great alternative to sugar, but we have not had a cost-effective way to manufacture it. Our new method is efficient, economically feasible and could be scaled up for commercial production,” said Shota Atsumi, Professor of Chemistry at UC Davis and corresponding author on the paper published in the journal Science of Food.

The new approach has a more than 99 percent theoretical yield with high purity, something that means it “only requires minimal processing to isolate the desired product”.  Scientists have highlighted that current methods of allulose production are normally limited to “much lower levels of yield and purity, requiring expensive separation techniques to isolate allulose from the glucose and fructose starting material”.

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In order to change this Atsumi, Ph.D. candidate Jayce Taylor, Professor Justin Siegel and a number of co-workers in the Department of Chemistry and from Mars Advanced Research Institute looked for a more efficient way to manufacture allulose. They found an industrial microorganism that has the enzymes to make allulose but wasn’t using them to do so.

They were able to edit the organism’s metabolism to get the cells to convert glucose into allulose. The cells consume all the glucose they are fed and convert it to allulose with a noteworthy concentration, a yield of over 60 percent, and purity of over 95 percent, outperforming the existing production methods.

“Once flux was redirected, it turns out the cells have everything they need to do it; they just needed to be turned on and undesired pathways turned off,” said Atsumi.

UC Davis has filed patent applications on the process and modified organisms. Researchers are currently working with a commercial partner to discuss scaling up the process.