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06/30/2014 10:28 EDT | Updated 06/30/2014 10:59 EDT

Scientists Create Calorie-Free Sweetener

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Scientists have managed to circumvent the once-complicated production process for the sweetener erythritol, replacing rare yeasts and highly concentrated molasses for straw and fungi to create the exact same product on the cheap.

Having earned enthusiastic reviews from consumers and few doubts from health experts, erythritol is increasingly sought after in Europe and North America.

Not only is it free of laxative effects- -- a common complaint surrounding other sweeteners -- it does not cause tooth decay nor does it affect blood sugar levels and, of course, it's calorie-free.

Understanding that straw contains chemical components that can turn to sugar when treated with the correct enzymes, researchers in Vienna found that genetically modifying a fungus creates mass amounts of these hard-to-come-by enzymes.

"We knew that the mould fungus Trichoderma reesei is in principle capable of producing erythritol, but usually only in tiny quantities," says Dr. Robert Mach of the Vienna University of Technology. "By genetically modifying it, we managed to stimulate the production of an enzyme, which enables the large-scale production of the sweetener."

The Vienna research team has already patented their recipe, together with the company ANNIKKI.

"We have proven that the new production method works," says Dr. Mach. "Now we want to improve it together with our industry partners so that it can be used for large-scale production."

The study was published in the AMB Express, a journal with a focus on applied industrial microbiology.

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