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Milking plants

Milking plants
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A French company is growing fast as it exploits a technology to ‘milk’ precious products from plants.

“We produce molecules from plants that otherwise would be very difficult to produce, and these molecules are very useful for cosmetics and pharmaceuticals,” says the CEO of Plant Advanced Technologies Jean-Paul Fèvre.

Plant Advanced Technologies, based in near Nancy, is a pioneer of what it calls ‘plant milking technology’.

The plants are grown without soil, and their roots are then ‘milked’ of precious molecules.

The firm exploits the benefits of substances found within rare, protected and slow-growing plants.

“The plants produce active substances in their roots naturally that help them to defend themselves against aggressors in their environment.
We dip the roots into a solvent, which allows the roots to become more permeable, and bring out these high-value molecules,” says PAT’s reserach director Frédéric Bourgaud.

PAT is further refining its know-how as part of an EU-wide research project.

The scientists have identified a range of rare substances for use in medicine.

“This is a Mexican plant that produces a molecule that’s useful in treating osteoperosis in women. There we have two plants that naturally produce an anti-inflammatory, and there we have a carnivorous plant that should help us to produce molecules that are useful in treating certain cancers and a rare genetic disorder,” explains Bourgaud.

Swing open the store room doors and you will find hundreds of litres of natural anti-oxydants ready for delivery.

Feeding the plants a lean diet of nutrients means they grow bigger roots, and produce more valuable molecules.

“In a relatively limited amount of space we’re able to produce many kilogrammes, many tens of kilogrammes of substances, which is totally in line with what the market demands,” says Bourgaud.

The test greenhouse is stacked with racks of unusual plants being grown and tested to see how they could be ‘milked’ for new medicines.

There is plenty of scope for growth:

“A great many molecules are yet to be discovered from rare and protected plants, or from those that grow slowly, so it’s useful to have a procedure that does not destroy the plant itself,” says Jean-Paul Fèvre.