Algal-based biodiesel is a scalable, carbon-sparing, cost-effective solution to provide transportation fuel for a growing population.
Since 2009, Synthetic Genomics and ExxonMobil have worked together to create high-density, cost-competitive transportation fuel from algae. On the heels of a major scientific breakthrough published in Nature Biotechnology in 2017, Exxon and Synthetic Genomics have recently set a goal to develop the technical ability to produce 10,000 barrels of algae biofuel per day by 2025.
Algae is an attractive source for biofuel because it produces energy-dense oil content, grows in salt water and thrives in harsh environmental conditions. However, finding a strain of algae that is oil rich while also growing rapidly — a formula to develop algae biofuels at commercial scale — has eluded scientists for a decade. Until recently.
Researchers at Synthetic Genomics discovered a genetic switch that could be fine-tuned to regulate the conversion of carbon to oil in the algae species, Nannochloropsis gaditana. The team established a proof-of-concept approach that doubled the algae’s lipid content while sustaining growth.
The path leading to that pivotal point began with a global algae-collection effort. The team collected thousands of diverse strains in search of a natural species with desired characteristics. To narrow down to Nannocholoropsis, researchers used advanced genomics to sequence the strain’s 9,000 genes and found 20 potential “master regulators” of lipid production. Using gene editing to knock out each gene individually, they found one — the ZynCys gene — that dramatically increased lipid production when removed, but also stunted growth. By applying a different tool, RNA inference, they were able to fine-tune expression of the ZynCys gene until algae grew at about the same rate as wild algae, but with more than double the lipid production.
While fundamental research on algae continues in the laboratory, the companies are conducting a new phase of outdoor field study with naturally occurring algae in several contained ponds in California. The research will enable ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics to better understand fundamental engineering parameters, which cannot easily be replicated in a lab. The results of this work are important to understand how to scale the technology for potential commercial deployment.
The biotechnology industry was founded on the principle of using living microbial cells as factories to make new products. Today, this method accounts for production of 25 percent of the drugs that comprise the pharmaceutical market. However, the cells used to create these products were developed before the genomics era and were never specifically designed for biologic manufacturing.
Were E. coli and chinese hamster ovary cells (CHO) designed to make monoclonal antibodies and other therapeutics proteins? We believe there are better approaches.
Synthetic Genomics has applied its world-class genome engineering and synthetic biology tools to identify and optimize organisms for the purpose of bioproduction, creating powerful cell factories that are capable of increasing a better end product.
Mammalian cell lines such as CHO are the predominant production platform for protein-based therapeutics. Despite four decades of use, this system presents challenges in terms of cost, quality, and efficacy. The industry is ripe for disruption. Drug developers, regulators, and reimbursement organizations are demanding faster and lower-cost methods to produce biologic medicines.
Cmax, a proprietary microbial host developed by Synthetic Genomics, is poised to transform biologics drug production. It provides a shorter time from lead generation to market, lower cost of goods, increased quality, and improved efficacy. We developed Cmax to become the leading manufacturing platform for protein therapeutics, including complex monoclonal antibodies. Numerous external partnerships have validated its ability to replace CHO for manufacturing complex protein therapeutics. Collaborations are now underway to demonstrate the full potential of Cmax at a commercial scale.
We are engaging industry leaders across the therapeutics and bioproduction value chain as partners in the development and commercial use of our Cmax platform.
Specifically, we are working with:
Pharma and biotech companies looking to accelerate the time to bring new biologics including monoclonal antibodies, single domain antibodies, biospecifics, and therapeutic enzymes to market.
Contract manufacturing organizations (CMOs) interested in adding Cmax to their portfolio of biologics production systems to gain a competitive edge in the marketplace.
Biosimilar and “biobetter” players that want to exploit the potential of Cmax to lower production costs and increase efficacy of existing biologics.
If your company is interested in shaping the future of bioproduction, or just want to learn more, please visit our partnership page.