Scouting Report: We look at 4 microbial phenoms, who’s headed for the major leagues?

June 16, 2020 |

Let’s be honest, it hasn’t been a banner year for the popularity of microbes, now that a coronavirus has knocked major league baseball out of the ballparks. That’s a microbe, one hundred million times smaller than you are, recording over 100,000 strikeouts, if you consider that Major League Baseball is looking now at a 48-game season. That’s some strikeout pitch.

A lot of microbes, including yeast, get unfairly lumped in here. Genetically speaking, yeast is closer to you and I than a coronavirus, and while they are rarely available for Zoom chats, they might become game-changing technologies. So, we’ve sent our Digesterati scouts out on the (virtual) road, and here’s what we’ve found.

1. Advanced Yeast for sugarfree gum

Scout’s Report. Says here that a group of yeast currently working for Creatus have developed amongst themselves a handy talent for converting second-generation xylose to xylitol at high rates of productivity that would make even Henry Ford smile. They don’t chew gum, yeast that is, but if you’re partial to sugarfree gum, you might just be enjoying some xylitol right now. Used to be that xylose to xylitol chemical-based production was reliant on hardwood-derived xylose (in North America and Europe), and even Paul Bunyan couldn’t chop trees fast enough to make it work at the rates that would blow open a market. In step our friendly yeast. More growth, less cost are the results. Definitely a major league prospect.

Secret Weapon? A robust tolerance to typical inhibitors found in 2G sugar streams.

Scout’s projection. Definitely a major league prospect, needs a year or two in Double-A minor league ball while the process is readied for scale-up. More on the tech is available here as well as on their own site, here.

2. Merging light, enzymes

Scout’s Report: Chiral carbonyl compounds (say that three times, real fast) have potential applications in the pharmaceutical industry to be used for drug production. Here’s a completely novel way to make them. Here’s the bottom line — it’s a new way to convert fatty acids from crops like miscanthus, sorghum, and sugarcane into alkenes, which can then be used in place of petroleum-based substrates to produce valuable compounds.

The breakthrough appears in a paper published in Nature describes a study led by Xiaoqiang Huang, who works in the lab of ChBE Professor Huimin Zhao, Conversion Theme Leader at the Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation (CABBI), a U.S. Department of Energy-funded Bioenergy Research Center.

The research team developed a solution: “Our solution might be considered ‘repurposing.’ We take known enzymes that occur in nature, and repurpose them for a novel reaction,” Zhao said.

Over the course of the study, researchers tested a variety of substrates (i.e., the substance on which the catalyst acts), documenting the ER enzymes’ reactivity in response to each. This process is comparable to baking a chemical chocolate-chip cookie: by keeping light levels constant and tweaking the “ingredients” (i.e. ERs and substrates), the team was able to gradually circle in on a desired reaction.

Using chemical insights and clever design to synthesize value-added products is characteristic of CABBI’s Conversion theme.

“Creating novel enzyme function is one of CABBI’s major scientific challenges,” Zhao said. “This study addresses that challenge by uncovering novel uses for enzymes and showing what they’re capable of.”

Secret Weapon? A visible-light-induced reaction that uses the enzyme family ene-reductase as a biocatalyst.

Scout’s projection. Early days for this one. Could be a productive team member at the major league level. It’s early stage, needs time in the development leagues.

3. BioLumic snags phenom CEO

Scout’s Report. Plant photogenics startup BioLumic acquired a new CEO, Steve Sibulkin. Sibulkin joins BioLumic from Yara International, where he led enterprise sustainability, partnership and digital initiatives after the company acquired the precision agriculture company he co-founded, Agronomic Technology Corp (ATC), in 2017.  In his time, ATC conducted over one billion simulations, expanded its product portfolio, signed enterprise partners, and became an industry-standard with growers, agriculture industry leaders and sustainably focused organizations.

BioLumic uses plant photogenics to unlock the genetic potential of seeds and seedlings and Steve will be focused on deepening BioLumic’s partnerships with seed companies, seed dealers, sustainability-focused organizations and enterprises that have aligned interest in utilizing and expanding this technology.

Lumic was happy with his deal. “BioLumic perfectly aligns with the movement toward more resilient and productive agriculture, and the opportunity to accelerate the growth of this transformative technology is one I couldn’t resist.”

Secret Weapon: Rooted in more than a decade of research into UV light treatments in plants and spun out from Massey University in New Zealand, BioLumic’s technology offers seed producers and growers new opportunities to grow more valuable and sustainable crops. Its scientifically validated photogenics platform uses a combination of artificial intelligence and precise light treatments to activate the natural plant signaling response to UV light, triggering plant growth that enhances crop yield, crop quality, drought tolerance, and natural disease and pest resistance.

Scout’s Projection. BioLumic just took a step towards a championship by acquiring a high-performance starting pitcher with an impressive arsenal of pitches and enough mound time to know a way to tear through a batting line-up.

4. Biotalys adds US HQ as it readies for BioFun-1 launch

Scout’s Report. Biotalys NV will establish new U.S. headquarters in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and acquired Diego Angelo as Chief Business Officer (CBO) and Head of the U.S. subsidiary, Biotalys, as the company prepares for the commercial launch of its lead biofungicide, BioFun-1.

Angelo served as CCO at Sound Agriculture, after multiple commercial leadership roles at BASF, Bayer and Monsanto. He said “Biotalys’s disruptive technology and lead biofungicide, BioFun-1, are uniquely positioned to address unmet needs of the food value chain, from efficacy to residue control and shelf-life management.”

Secret Weapon? Following the recent closing of the Series C round, Biotalys is finalizing its next field trial program and preparing to submit the regulatory dossier for its lead biofungicide. Biotalys aims to deliver a broad lineup of products that safely and reliably address key crop pests and diseases across the ag and food value chain.

Scout’s Projection. Biotalys is moving into the majors with a US expansion and a big launch. They’re definitely beefed up their team with a big-hitter who can produce RBIs and gets on base.

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