GlycosBio, Solix report positive results in early-stage R&D

By Bryan Sims | August 26, 2011

The algae and biochemical sectors are becoming more interwoven as Houston-based biochemical firm Glycos Biotechnologies Inc. and Ft. Collins, Colo.-based algae developer Solix BioSystems Inc. reported that their early-stage research and development collaboration yielded positive results, demonstrating the potential for Solix’s algae oil to be converted into a range of high-value specialty chemicals through GlycosBio’s novel microbial platform.

Solix’s crude algae oil, obtained from the company’s pilot facility located in the Southern Ute Reservation near Durango, Colo., was found to be nontoxic, easily metabolized and upgraded by GlycosBio’s proprietary biocatalysts at the company’s research facilities in Houston led by Daniel Monticello, GlycosBio’s vice president of research and development. Based on the successful production of ethanol from the oil, additional studies are planned to convert the oil to high-value chemicals such as succinate, propanediol and isoprene.

Monticello explained to Biorefining Magazine that while the production of ethanol may not be a focus of the research and development collaboration, the alcohol, however, acts as a viable springboard for getting to the basic building blocks of producing the chemicals like isoprene, a chemical of specific interest for GlycosBio.

“The reason ethanol is important in this context is not that we wanted to take these perfectly long, complex molecules and turn them into ethanol,” Monticello said, “rather ethanol is a good surrogate for us to tell us that our bacteria can take these oils and convert them down to the basic building block, which is acetyl-CoA—one step away from ethanol. If we know that our platform can take this complicated oil and convert it into this basic building block, then we can monitor that with the production of ethanol and then just delete that gene so we know it’s making the building block.”

According to Joel Butler, CEO of Solix BioSystems, the successful proof-of-concept that his company’s algal oil can be converted to chemicals represents a significant milestone in the demonstration of the potential of algae to be a feedstock for a broad range of products beyond fuel. Butler said Solix will continue to provide oil samples to GlycosBio for further experimentation.

“There are over 30,000 different species of wild naturally-occurring algae,” Butler said, “so we’re continuing to evaluate different algal strains that have different outputs to determine if there are other unique products that can be derived as we explore that space of multiple algal strains.”