Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 84, Issue 2, pp 217–225

Microbiological production of tocopherols: current state and prospects


DOI: 10.1007/s00253-009-2104-7

Cite this article as:
Ogbonna, J.C. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol (2009) 84: 217. doi:10.1007/s00253-009-2104-7


Tocopherols are antioxidants that prevent various diseases caused by oxidative stress. Tocochromanols comprise four isoforms of tocopherols and four isoforms of tocotrienols but α-tocopherol is the most abundant and active isoform in human and animal tissues. Tocopherols are used as dietary supplements for human, as food preservatives, in manufacture of cosmetics, and for fortification of animal feed. Only photosynthetic cells are known to accumulate detectable concentrations of tocopherols. Tocopherols can be extracted and purified or concentrated from vegetable oils and other higher plant materials. However, the concentrations in these higher plant materials are very low and there are high proportions of the less-active homologues of tocopherols. Among the many strains of photosynthetic microorganisms known to accumulate tocopherols, Euglena gracilis is promising for commercial production of α-tocopherol. The growth rate and α-tocopherol contents are relatively high and α-tocopherol comprise more than 97% of all the tocopherols accumulated by Euglena gracilis. Although a lot of work has been done to increase the contents and composition of tocopherols in higher plants through genetic and metabolic engineering, work on genetic modification of microorganisms for increased tocopherol accumulation is scarce. Many cultivation systems have been investigated for efficient production of tocopherol by Euglena gracilis. However, those that involve heterotrophic metabolism are more promising. Bubble columns and flat-plate photobioreactors are more suitable for commercial production of tocopherols, than the tubular, internally illuminated, and open-air photobioreactors.


TocopherolsAntioxidantsMicrobial productionEuglena gracilisCultivation systemsPhotobioreactors

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of MicrobiologyUniversity of Nigeria, NsukkaNsukkaNigeria