SynBERC Spinoff Lygos Awarded $1.8M DOE Grant for Biomass-to-Chemicals Effort

Achievement date: 
2013
Outcome/accomplishment: 

Lygos, one of several startup companies to come out of the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC), an NSF-funded center headquartered at the University of California at Berkeley, has been awarded a $1.8 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to develop efficient, inexpensive methods and tools to convert biomass into common and specialty chemicals.

Impact/benefits: 

Scientists from Lygos will team up with researchers at TeselaGen Biotech, a member of SynBERC's Industry Advisory Board, to develop the Lygos technology platform to convert cellulosic biomass into a broad range of chemicals and synthetic materials for consumer products. This is a non-polluting chemical manufacturing process that avoids the use of petroleum.

Explanation/Background: 

The Lygos technology platform repurposes a class of proteins that have been used for decades to make antibiotics and other drugs. Polyketide synthases (PKS) are a family of multifunctional enzymes that produce polyketides, which are hydrocarbon chains that serve as a backbone for many widely used natural and synthetic organic chemicals. Lygos researchers redesigned the PKS process, or pathway, by mixing and matching genetic information to produce compounds that were never made by nature but have become ubiquitous synthetic materials of our everyday lives.

The method can produce compounds such as nylon precursors, polyester components, styrene, and propylene. The latter two are widely used in plastics and countless consumer products. Besides producing products currently made with petroleum, the Lygos technology can also be used to engineer products with characteristics that have never been achieved before, or that have been too expensive to produce otherwise. Biofuels are another possible product.