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Science and Technology

Peoria Ag Lab Scientists Put Bacteria To Work Converting Bread Waste Into Useful Compounds

Hunger In America Food Allergies
Gregory Bull/AP
Alex Miller grabs a loaf of bread from a shelf at Porchlight Community Service food pantry Thursday, May 6, 2021, in San Diego. For millions of Americans with food allergies or intolerances, the pandemic has created a particular crisis: Most food banks and government programs offer limited options. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Americans throw away millions of tons of uneaten bread each year. Scientists at the Peoria Ag Lab want to cut down on that waste by finding a new use.

They're researching using bacteria to convert the sugar in the bread into 2KGA, a compound from which Vitamin C can be extracted. That vitamin is used in everything from food and drinks to pharmaceutical products.

Tim Shelley speaks with Peoria Ag Lab research chemist Badal Saha.

BADAL SAHA: Food waste is really a problem. But people, we don't think about their waste, but it's a problem. About 12.5 million tons of bread roll, croissant and other baked goods that go to waste each year. So, if we can use some of these food waste in making into malleable products, and that will be very good. What we want to do is to contribute to sustainable and environmentally friendly production and bio-based material that will benefit the producers, the public and the environment.

TIM SHELLEY: So you are in a team over at the Ag Lab here in Peoria, you are talking about a way to use bread waste and I guess, make sure it doesn't go to waste. If you want to talk a little bit about I guess what 2KGA is and what exactly you're doing?

BADAL SAHA: Actually, visiting visiting postdoctoral fellow from Turkey, Sirma Yegin, spent a year in my laboratory trying to get some postdoctoral research experience, and this is a part of her research. And as you can see, the what we are trying to do is one part. Bread waste - we turn a lot of carbohydrates, starchy material into some useful compounds like 2-keto-D-gluconic acid (2KGA).

Now 2-keto-D-gluconic acid is a precursor, you can say, to Vitamin C, which is used in as an antioxidant and in so many food preparations. So, with that, we try to convert parts of the bread waste into 2-keto-D-gluconic acid. It is a scientific term, but in short I say 2KGA, which is then converted into 2-L-glutamic acid and a 2-keto-gloconic acid. It is a significant intermediate. The last step for conversion by chemical chemical is to add what is known as vitamin C.

TIM SHELLEY: And there's actually a microbe - I don't know if it's a bacteria - that actually does this.

BADAL SAHA: We screened a bunch of Pseudomonas strains, and found that Pseudomonas reptilivora can do a very good job in making the 2KGA. And that's why we started to do the research, with the help of Midwest Food Bank, which has a lot of unused bread they throw away. So we take advantage of that. We bring the bread here. We simply use an enzyme system with amylase and proteins to break down into sugars. And we use this bacterium to produce 2-keto-D-gluconic acid, with a very, very good yield.

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