Innovation: ENEA develops new method to sinthesize molecules in tomato and yeast to cure maculopathies


Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory molecules from edible products like tomatoes and yeast to manufacture drugs to treat eye conditions and be employed in the nutraceutical and cosmetic fields as well.

The innovative and low-cost process, developed and patented at the ENEA Biotechnology Laboratory, allows to synthesize an important class of bioactive molecules like crocins, which have impressive health properties. In particular, crocins and carotenoids[1] - such as lutein and zeaxanthin – provide proven protection against maculopathy, a degenerative disease of the retina which, according to recent studies, is expected to affect 288 million people worldwide by 2040.

"In order to produce all the crocins needed to prevent maculopathy, it would be necessary to double the world production of saffron, a rare and expensive spice, and to allocate it all for this purpose", explained Sarah Frusciante, ENEA researcher and inventor of the patent together with Giovanni Giuliano, Olivia Demurtas and Giuseppe Aprea and co-author of the study  published in the journal “Plant Physiology”. "Our work - she said - opens up a new scenario on safe and low-cost production of these molecules, proving that biotechnology makes it possible to produce crocins in safe, edible products like yeast and tomato" .

To date, the biotechnological production of crocins has been obtained in systems such as the bacterium Escherichia coli or tobacco leaves which, unlike tomatoes and yeast, are not edible and need to be purified.

"We have identified a new enzyme in Bixa orellana capable of synthesizing crocins from widely diffused carotenoids like beta-carotene from carrot and lycopene from tomato, that adds up to a series of enzymes we identified in previous studies, funded by the European Union and the Lazio Region. This line of research has already produced 2 patents and 8 publications, paving the way for the production of crocins in various edible products”,  Frusciante said.

For more information please contact:

Sarah Frusciante, ENEA - Biotechnologies Laboratory,

Study published in “Plant Physiology”:



[1] Class of organic pigments that can be found in plants or other photosynthetic organisms, such as algae and some species of bacteria.

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