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Genomatica to Churn Out Green Chemical With Bugs

Green chemistry startup Genomatica said this morning it has successfully produced a commonly used chemical in plastics and rubber products using sugar instead of petroleum. The chemical is called “1,4?butanediol,” or BDO for short. Genomatica uses an engineered microorganism to convert sugar into BDO to produce a 100 percent renewable chemical. And the company says it’s the first to publish evidence that a microorganism can produce BDO.

Genomatica, which was founded in 2000 and is backed by Mohr Davidow, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Alloy Ventures and Iceland Genomic Ventures, first started producing its green BDO back in February. Since then, it says it has increased the productivity of its generation by 1,000-fold, and has managed to engineer the organism to survive in the high BDO concentrations needed to produce a whole lot of the chemical. That means it’ll be ready to start scaling up to the volumes needed to compete in the chemical industry.

BDO is used in everyday plastics, rubbers and fibers, many of which need to withstand rugged conditions at high heats. Genomatica CEO Christopher Gann says that its green BDO can be used in any products that traditionally used BDO, such as spandex, airbags and textiles. The sugar-derived BDO molecule is “identical” to a petroleum-based BDO, Gann says. Genomatica plans to license its technology to chemical companies, sugar producers and manufacturers that use BDO, and the company hopes to sign its first major licensing deal in 2009. Gann joined the Genomatica team earlier this year after spending 27 years at Dow Chemical.

4 Responses to “Genomatica to Churn Out Green Chemical With Bugs”

  1. See also “Bacteria ready to make plastic from sugar
    Discovery- Discovery may replace petroleum-based ingredients with renewable ones” by Eric Bland at Discovery Magazine for an update.

    Bland never really touches upon over one partial disturbing point, but instead glosses over it like yesterday’s weather report when he writes, “Still, cells are notorious for evolving unwanted traits, like the rise of drug resistant bacteria and cancers. Schilling said they plan to tap into that evolutionary bent and turn it into profit.”

    What is even more distressing is the arrogance of Genomatica’s Schilling when he says, ” “We have ways to essentially accelerate [evolution], so the bacteria can evolve to tolerate higher concentrations of BDO and not in the exact way we would have predicted with the computer models.”

    If you have ever read Michael Crighton’s PREY or if you are even remotely scholared in genetics you immediately realize the dangers in this “Let’s Play God” statement, particular in a such a common bacteria form like E. Coli raised in optium conditions and that can live in the human body.

    In light of the recent potential apocalyptic ramification of scientific testing by science industry giants such as CERN, a daunting question remains: Who decides what is “acceptable risk”? Who looks out for the public’s best interest? Government? The science Community?? Puh-lease. Don’t even get me started…