A Boulder high-tech company spun off from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2007 has been granted an exclusive license by the university for a novel microbial technology to produce new biorefining fuels and related chemical products.
OPX Biotechnologies Inc. will use the technology and other intellectual property to develop new strains of microbes for biorefining and next-generation biofuels applications. Created by a research team in CU-Boulder's chemical and biological engineering department led by Professor Ryan Gill, the technology was licensed to OPX by the University of Colorado Technology Transfer Office.
Dubbed SCALEs, the new technology will be used with other OPX tools to rapidly identify the roles of individual genes of the common bacteria, Escherichia coli, and develop methods to modify them with desired characteristics. Researchers are able to use SCALEs to analyze many individual genes simultaneously, speeding the process by several orders of magnitude over existing technology, said Gill.
Some strains of E. coli are involved in fermentation reactions crucial to processes for making advanced biofuels, ethanol and other chemicals derived from biofuels, said Gill. "The idea is to engineer microbial strains so that they can effectively convert cheap biomass to useable products," said Gill. "E coli can eat almost anything, including sugars, a big advantage in producing new biofuels."
Some of the genetic traits that are essential for these new strains of bacteria in the biofuels arena are complex, involving multiple genes and multiple genetic pathways, said Gill. The SCALEs "toolbox" is ideal for bioengineering such bacteria and is expected to produce new patentable strategies for the burgeoning industry, he said.
"Our technology allows us to look at millions of genetic changes and their effects on commercially important traits such as the production rate and efficiency for making fuels and chemicals," said OPX Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Michael Lynch, who is co-founder of OPX with Gill and a former researcher in the Gill lab at CU-Boulder. "OPX's technology has the promise to remove a significant barrier to the use of renewable sources of energy as an alternative to petroleum-based products."
OPX is funded by the Silicon Valley venture capital firms Mohr Davidow Ventures and X/Seed Capital. Gill also serves on the OPX Scientific Advisory Board.
"This exciting opportunity brings together advanced stage technology, compelling market drivers, superlative investment partners and a quality team," said CU Associate Vice President for Technology Transfer David Allen. The technology received "proof-of concept" funding from the CU Technology Transfer Office in 2006.
CU's Technology Transfer Office pursues, protects, packages and licenses to business the intellectual property generated from research at CU. For more information about technology transfer at CU, visit www.cu.edu/techtransfer.