Synthetic Biology-derived triterpenes as efficacious immunomodulating adjuvants

Sci Rep. 2020 Oct 13;10(1):17090. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-73868-6.


The triterpene oil squalene is an essential component of nanoemulsion vaccine adjuvants. It is most notably in the MF59 adjuvant, a component in some seasonal influenza vaccines, in stockpiled, emulsion-based adjuvanted pandemic influenza vaccines, and with demonstrated efficacy for vaccines to other pandemic viruses, such as SARS-CoV-2. Squalene has historically been harvested from shark liver oil, which is undesirable for a variety of reasons. In this study, we have demonstrated the use of a Synthetic Biology (yeast) production platform to generate squalene and novel triterpene oils, all of which are equally as efficacious as vaccine adjuvants based on physiochemical properties and immunomodulating activities in a mouse model. These Synthetic Biology adjuvants also elicited similar IgG1, IgG2a, and total IgG levels compared to marine and commercial controls when formulated with common quadrivalent influenza antigens. Injection site morphology and serum cytokine levels did not suggest any reactogenic effects of the yeast-derived squalene or novel triterpenes, suggesting their safety in adjuvant formulations. These results support the advantages of yeast produced triterpene oils to include completely controlled growth conditions, just-in-time and scalable production, and the capacity to produce novel triterpenes beyond squalene.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / chemistry*
  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood
  • Betacoronavirus / isolation & purification
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / prevention & control
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology
  • Cytokines / blood
  • Immunoglobulin G / blood
  • Influenza Vaccines / chemistry
  • Influenza Vaccines / immunology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Nanoparticles / chemistry
  • Orthomyxoviridae Infections / pathology
  • Orthomyxoviridae Infections / prevention & control
  • Orthomyxoviridae Infections / virology
  • Pandemics / prevention & control
  • Pneumonia, Viral / prevention & control
  • Pneumonia, Viral / virology
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / chemistry
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / metabolism
  • Synthetic Biology / methods
  • Triterpenes / chemistry*


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Cytokines
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Influenza Vaccines
  • Triterpenes