The impact of desiccation on microorganisms such as yeasts, bacteria, and plants are extremely important in a variety of industries ranging from the food and beverage industry that rely heavily on yeast and agricultural crops. Microorganisms can survive for a certain period of time when water is limited, but may not be able to survive severe environmental conditions when desiccation tolerance is low. The market potential in stabilization of cells and cell products is estimated to be some $500 billion worldwide. For example, it has been reported that fewer than one in a million yeast cells from low-density logarithmic cultures of Saccharomyces cerevisiae survive desiccation. Therefore, given the exceedingly large number of microorganisms used in a variety of industries, even minor increases in survival can result in significant improvements in final output. For example, applications such as freeze-drying cells for the medical industry are used to preserve cell structure and function for long term storage. Additionally, the largest market for freeze-drying is the food industry.
UC Berkeley researchers have developed methods and compositions for increasing desiccation tolerance in a cell by contacting the cell with one or more agents that generates synergistic amounts of trehalose and a hydrophilin protein within the cell. Cells with increased desiccation tolerance have also been developed.