Functions and potential applications of glycolipid biosurfactants--from energy-saving materials to gene delivery carriers

J Biosci Bioeng. 2002;94(3):187-201. doi: 10.1263/jbb.94.187.


Biosurfactants (BS) produced by various microorganisms show unique properties (e.g., mild production conditions, lower toxicity, higher biodegradability and environmental compatibility) compared to their chemical counterparts. The numerous advantages of BS have prompted applications not only in the food, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical industries but in environmental protection and energy-saving technology as well. Glycolipid BS are the most promising, due to high productivity from renewable resources and versatile biochemical properties. Mannosylerythritol lipids (MEL), which are glycolipid BS produced by a yeast Candida antarctrica, exhibit not only excellent interfacial properties but also remarkable differentiation-inducing activities against human leukemia cells. MEL also show a potential anti-agglomeration effect on ice particles in ice slurry used for cold thermal storage. Recently, the cationic liposome bearing MEL has been demonstrated to increase dramatically the efficiency of gene transfection into mammalian cells. These features of BS should broaden its applications in new advanced technologies. The current status of research and development on glycolipid BS, especially their function and potential applications, is discussed.