Heterologous production of the widely used natural food colorant carminic acid in Aspergillus nidulans

Rasmus John Normand Frandsen*, Paiman Khorsand-Jamal, Kenneth T. Kongstad, Majse Nafisi, Rubini M. Kannangara, Dan Stærk, Finn T. Okkels, Kim Binderup, Bjørn Madsen, Birger Lindberg Møller, Ulf Thrane, Uffe Hasbro Mortensen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

484 Downloads (Pure)


The natural red food colorants carmine (E120) and carminic acid are currently produced from scale insects. The access to raw material is limited and current production is sensitive to fluctuation in weather conditions. A cheaper and more stable supply is therefore desirable. Here we present the first proof-of-concept of heterologous microbial production of carminic acid in Aspergillus nidulans by developing a semi-natural biosynthetic pathway. Formation of the tricyclic core of carminic acid is achieved via a two-step process wherein a plant type III polyketide synthase (PKS) forms a non-reduced linear octaketide, which subsequently is folded into the desired flavokermesic acid anthrone (FKA) structure by a cyclase and a aromatase from a bacterial type II PKS system. The formed FKA is oxidized to flavokermesic acid and kermesic acid, catalyzed by endogenous A. nidulans monooxygenases, and further converted to dcII and carminic acid by the Dactylopius coccus C-glucosyltransferase DcUGT2. The establishment of a functional biosynthetic carminic acid pathway in A. nidulans serves as an important step towards industrial-scale production of carminic acid via liquid-state fermentation using a microbial cell factory.
Original languageEnglish
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018


Dive into the research topics of 'Heterologous production of the widely used natural food colorant carminic acid in Aspergillus nidulans'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this