Journal of Oil Palm Research (ELAEIS Special Issue), p. 1-12


YEONG Shoot Kian*; SALMIAH Ahmad*; OOI Tian Lye*; CHEAH Suan Choo*


Biotechnology is not something new. Since prehistoric times, humans have exploited microorganisms for their own use. By trial and error, they have developed the production of alcoholic beverages and food without knowing that microbes were the responsible agent. With the discovery of the existence of microorganisms, and the subsequent development of culture methods, came the birth of modern biological technology or in short, biotechnology (Steele et al., 1991).

The term biotechnology has a very broad meaning. It could mean genetic manipulation of mammalian, plant or microbial cells to the use of microorganisms to aid a process. One of the aspects of biotechnology is biotransformation. Biotransformation could be defined as the use of biocatalyst to convert a raw material into a value-added product. The choice of biocatalyst is between isolated enzymes or microbial whole cells. In cases where the biotransformation is a one-step reaction and non-cofactor requiring enzyme is available, then an isolated enzyme often immobilized onto a support is generally the most efficient biocatalyst. An excellent example is the use of lipases for ester synthesis (Eigtved et al., 1988; Lazar et al., 1986 & Staal, 1991). In other instances where the biotransformation is a relatively complex multistep reaction, especially when these enzymatic steps require cofactors, then the only possible approach is to employ a living biocatalyst, usually genetically modified microbial cells (Casey and Macrae, 1992).

One of the main advantages of biotransformations is their well-known enantioselectivity. Although chemical reactions with optically active catalysts or auxiliaries could be used successfully, enzymatic reactions are often more economical (KiesZich, 1992).

Cheap raw materials such as glucose, complex carbohydrates like starch, molasses or even waste waters are among the favourite substrates for biotransformation (Buhler and Wandrey, 1992). However a number of interesting novel value-added products can also be derived from oils and fats. These products may find new industrial applications.


* Palm Oil Research Institute of Malaysia,
P.O. Box 10620, 50720 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.