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Boosting Vitamin K

Researchers discover a new way to make vitamin K that promises to cut costs.

In an innovative study that promises to reduce production costs for the most potent form of vitamin K (menaquinone-7), researchers in the college have developed a novel method to enhance the fermentation process that creates the supplement by agitated liquid fermentation in a biofilm reactor.

The new process, assuming it can be scaled up to industrial production in subsequent research, is important because recent studies show essential health benefits associated with large doses of vitamin K--especially the menaquinone-7 form, known as MK-7. These benefits include reducing risks of cardiovascular disease and strokes, osteoporosis, and even cancer.

Foods that are rich in vitamin K--such as kale, red meat, or egg yolks--don't provide enough of the vitamin to achieve high-dose therapies, which require supplements.

However, MK-7 production on an industrial level is expensive and limited because the bacterial fermentation needed to create the vitamin so far has relied on "static" fermentation strategies that are inadequate to ramp up output of the vitamin.

The present production system won't support expected much higher demand for vitamin K, explained researcher Ehsan Mahdinia, who is now a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Food Science.

Ali Demirci, professor of agricultural and biological engineering whose research group conducted the study, plans to scale up the 2-liter laboratory biofilm reactors and introduce pilot scale fermenters of perhaps 200 liters.

"Then we hope we can turn this into a patent and go to the industry and say, 'You can easily scale up these liquid fermenters to thousands of liters and produce much larger amounts of vitamin K,'" he said.

--Jeff Mulhollem