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Enzymatic modification of phospholipids


Key words Phospholipids (lecithin), emulsifiers, phospholipase, membrane structure
Latest version 2012/07/17
Completed by DIL

How does it work?

Primary objective Improved emulsifying properties, increase of dispersibility in aqueous systems or obtaining of nutritionally valuable phospholipids by enzymatic modification of phospholipids with phospholipases A1, A2 and D
Working principle The principle is based on selective and specific Modification of phospholipid by enzymatic hydrolysis. Different enzymes can be used for the modification reactions.

Phospholipase A2 (EC (PLA2) catalyses a cleavage of fatty acid at the sn2 position (Fig. 1) of the phospholipid molecule [1]. Lysophospholipids generated due to PLA2 activity have better o/w emulsification properties than the corresponding natural phospholipids [2]. The HLB-value of the lysophospholipids increases with the hydrolysis degree and they become more hydrophilic. A hydrophilic phospholipid molecule can also be obtained by the phospholipase A1 (EC cleaving the fatty acid at position sn1. This application is used for degumming of edible oils during refining. Additionally, a free fatty acid is obtained from each phospholipid molecule [3].

Phospholipase D (EC (PLD) catalyses the enzymatic cleavage of the phosphate ester bond of phospholipid molecule causing a release of the polar head group (Fig. 1). Additionally, PLD treatment can lead to transphosphatidylation with other polar groups, e.g. alcohols [4]. PLD is used for modification of polar head group of the phospholipid molecule in order to increase the content of particular phospholipid species, e.g. phosphatidylcholine (PC), phosphatidylserine (PS) or phosphatidic acid (PA), to alter their physicochemical and technological properties or to generate novel phospholipid derivates with modified head groups [2,5,6].

2 2 3.phospho.jpg

Fig.1 Phospholipid molecule with cleavage locations of phospholipases A1, A2 and D. R1,R2: fatty acids residuals; R3: alcohol

Additional effects
  • Increased stability of o/w emulsions which are prepared with lysophospholipids [7]
  • Increased heat stability of emulsions prepared with PLA2-and PLD-treated egg yolk [8,9]
  • Better removal of lysophospholipids during degumming in the refining process of vegetable oil [2]
  • Generating of nutraceuticals by application of PLD [5]
  • Obtaining phospholipids with a high purity [3]
Important process parameters temperature, pH-value, reaction time, ion concentration, type and dosage enzyme, activities and side-activities of the phospholipases
Important product parameters water content

What can it be used for?

Products Lecithin blends, egg yolk, dairy products, bakery products, additives, vegetable oil, nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals
Operations Structure forming, conversion, stabilizing
Solutions for short comings Application of phospholipases follows the trend of using enzymes as an alternative to chemical processes.

Modified phospholipids are used in foods, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Phospholipids with modified structure may be applied for producing nutraceuticals. Phosphatidylserine (PS) was shown to have positive effects on cognitive capacity and is used as nutritional health supplement for memory improvement. PS can be derived from soy lecithin which has been treated by PLD.

What can it NOT be used for?

Products Products containing no additives because phospholipids must be declared (in EU as E322) [10].

For halal/kosher products, only lecithin modified by plant derived phospholipases can be used [8].

Operations Restricted application of phospholipases due to source and product specificity of the enzymes.
Other limitations Scale-up problems
Risks or hazards Lecithin is regarded as a well-tolerated nontoxic compound. For enzymatic treatment solvent-free systems are preferred.


Maturity PLA2 hydrolysis is available on industrial scale. Products are used in food, pharmaceuticals, plastics, coatings, cosmetics etc. However enzymatic modification of phospholipids by phospholipase D is only used in lab-scale.
Modularity /Implementation In order to meet the specific needs of the food industry, the enzymes have to be permanently optimised by protein engineering , resulting in increased production costs
Consumer aspects Non-GMO lecithin should be used. Additionally, phospholipases originated from genetically modified microorganisms may be critical
Legal aspects The Codex Alimentarius Committee of the FAO/WHO has listed food-grade lecithins with recommended purity criteria for worldwide use. The EU-approved food additive number E322 comprise enzymatically hydrolyzed lecithins [10].
Environmental aspects Compared to physical or chemical methods, the enzymatic approach allows a better control of the reactions, greatly reduces the consumption of toxic solvents, saves chemicals, energy and water due to mild reaction conditions, reduces waste and increases product yield [11].

Further Information

Institutes DIL, TU München, Martin Luther Universität Halle Wittenberg, DTU Food, Texas A&M University
Companies Lecithos Consulting, Lecipro Consulting, Unilever, Novozymes, Biocatalysts, Cargill
  1. More H. T.; Pandit A. B. (2010), Enzymatic acyl modification of phosphatidylcholine using immobilized lipase and phospholipase A2. European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology 112 (4) 428-433
  2. De Maria L.; Vind J.; Oxenboll K.M.; Svendsen A.; Patkar S. (2007), Phospholipases and their industrial applications. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology 74 (2) 290-300
  3. Xu X.; Vikbjerg A.F.; Guo Z.; Zhang, L.; Acharya A.K. (2008), Enzymatic modification of phospholipids and ralted lipids, Phospholipid technology and applications. Gunstone (Ed.) F.D. Bridgwater: PJ Barnes & Associates, The Oily Press
  4. Ulbrich-Hofmann R.; Lerchner A.; Oblozinsky M.; Bezakova L. (2005), Phospholipase D and its application in biocatalysis. Biotechnology Letters 27 (8) 535-544
  5. Guo Z.; Vikbjerg A.F.; Xu X. (2005), Enzymatic modification of phospholipids for functional applications and human nutrition. Biotechnology Advances (23) 203-259
  6. Saitou C.; Ouchi K.; Ohta S. (1992), Process for modifying the properties of egg yolk. Kaisha, JP: Kyowa Hakko Kogyo KK, Patent US 5080911
  7. Dam F. A. van (1978), Stabilised emulsions comprising phospholipo-protein. London: Unilever plc, Patent GB 1525929
  8. Buxmann W.; Bindrich U.; Strijowski U.; Heinz V.; Knorr D.; Franke K. (2010), Influencing emulsifying properties of egg yolk by enzymatic modification with phospholipase D, Part 2: Structural changes of egg yolk due to incubation. Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces 76 (1) 192-198
  9. Buxmann W.; Franke K.; Bindrich U.; Heinz V.; Knorr D. (2010), Influencing emulsifying properties of egg yolk by enzymatic modification by phospholipase D from Streptomyces chromofuscus, Part 1: Technological properties of incubated egg yolk. Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces 76 (1)186-191
  10. Nieuwenhuyzen W. van; Tomás M.C. (2008), Update on vegetable lecithin and phospholipid technologies. European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology 110 (5) 472-486
  11. Joshi A.; Paratkar S. G; Thorat B. N. (2006), Modification of lecithin by physical, chemical and enzymatic methods. European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology 108 (4) 363-373

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Created by Claudia Siemer on 24 June 2011, at 09:37