As the world’s leading manufacturer of amino acids, the Group focuses on expanding its business scope through development of original manufacturing methods and applications for high-quality amino acids to conduct wideranging operations that support the Food and AminoScience businesses domestically and internationally.
■Business Expantion Based on Amino Acids
What Are Amino Acids?
Approximately 500 amino acids have been found to exist in nature, and our bodies are made up of approximately 100,000 proteins, which are composed of the 20 amino acids shown in the table on the right. Nine of these are called “essential amino acids” because they cannot be synthesized in the body and must be taken from food. The chemical structure of amino acids is shown in the figure at the right. It shows the variations in chemical structure of the 20 amino acids as the “R” group. Amino acids include the COOH (carboxyl) group and the NH2 (amino) group, which are very chemically reactive, making it possible to synthesize many useful derivatives by bonding to other substances.
Functions and Uses of Amino Acids and Their Derivatives
Amino acids are very commonly present around us in the form of animal and vegetable proteins and are friendly substances to both the human body and the environment. The functions of amino acids can be classified mainly into flavoring functions, nutritional functions, physiological functions and reactivity. The applications of these functions are shown in the chart at the right. The history of the Group’s amino acid-related businesses has been one of identifying the functions of amino acids and then using those functions to broaden the applications for those functions.
Principal Technologies Supporting Amino Acid-Related Businesses
The Group’s three principal amino acid-related technologies are fermentation technology, synthesis technology and evaluation technology.
① Fermentation technology is used for manufacturing amino acids, nucleotides and so on through fermentation of saccharides using microorganisms.
The Group has established the top position worldwide in amino acid massproduction technology. The Group is working to further raise productivity of amino acids using microorganisms at the Research Institute for Bioscience Products & Fine Chemicals and ZAO “AJINOMOTO-GENETIKA Research Institute” (AGRI) in Russia. Production process development is also necessary to enable the use of these highly productive microorganisms in industrial production at the Group’s factories worldwide. These processes are developed as a cooperative effort among the Research Institute for Bioscience Products & Fine Chemicals, the Institute for Innovation and the Regional Technology Centers attached to factories in various countries. Technology for employing the different raw materials used in each region and for efficient purification and extraction of the desired amino acids and nucleotides from mass-cultured broth is developed and finally transferred to each factory. These technologies represent the Group’s unique know-how accumulated over many years of producing amino acids and nucleotides.
② Synthesis technology uses chemical reactions to produce a variety of Healthcare and Life Support products from diverse raw materials including amino acids and nucleotides produced using fermentation technology.
The Group has peerless technological capabilities from applying synthesis technology alone as well as by developing unique processes that combine synthesis technology with fermentation or enzymatic technologies. The Institute for Innovation, the Institute of Food Sciences and Technologies and the Research Institute for Bioscience Products & Fine Chemicals cooperate on R&D in these areas and specific product development and industrialization. They also cooperate to introduce technologies at domestic and overseas factories while coordinating with the Regional Technology Centers as necessary.
③ Evaluation technology is used to evaluate the nutritional and physiological functions of amino acids, nucleotides and their derivatives and to develop applications for them.
The Group leads the world in research on amino acid-related nutritional and physiological functions. In cooperation with leading researchers around the world, the Group continually explores new functions and applications for amino acids and seeks commercialization. The Group also disseminates information on the benefits of amino acids worldwide. Moreover, technology for evaluating the properties of amino acid derivatives leads to the creation of many ingredients used in cosmetics and specialty chemicals products.
In addition to these three key technologies, the amino acid-related businesses are supported by quality assurance and safety evaluation technology based on the world’s most advanced analytical techniques, giving the Group an advantage over other companies.
■Development of R&D Supporting Amino Acid-Related Businesses