The Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology has announced that it will renew a multiyear research award under the Advanced Technology Program to Mycogen Corp. (San Diego, Calif.) to use modern genetic technologies to modify oleaginous yeast to stimulate the overproduction of isoprenoids, a commercially important class of lipids. An initial project target is the production of squalene, an important biodegradable lubricant currently extracted from shark liver oil.
The NIST award renewal is for $392,158. The three-year project, begun in 1995, is projected to receive a total of approximately $1,043,000 in ATP funding, matched by approximately $294,000 in industry funding.
Advanced Technology Program awards are designed to help industry pursue risky, challenging technologies that have the potential for a big pay-off for the nation’s economy. ATP projects focus on enabling technologies that will create opportunities for new, world-class products, services and industrial processes, benefiting not just the ATP participants but other companies and industries--and ultimately consumers and taxpayers. The ATP’s cost-shared funding enables industry to pursue promising technologies that otherwise would be ignored or developed too slowly to compete in rapidly changing world markets.
Detailed information on this project, Oleaginous Yeast Fermentation as a Production Method for Squalene and Other Isoprenoids, is provided below.
One of the earliest biotechnologies, yeast fermentation, has been used for centuries to produce breads, wine, beer, and alcohol. But the yeast family has broader potential—the rather lesser known oleaginous yeasts, for example, can synthesize large quantities of lipid, the biochemical group that includes fats and waxes. Mycogen proposes to use modern genetic technologies to modify oleaginous yeast to stimulate the overproduction of isoprenoids, a commercially important class of lipid. In addition to the basic genetic engineering task—risky because oleaginous yeasts are rather poorly characterized—the Mycogen project will develop a cost-effective fermentation process that could be scaled up to produce large quantities of isoprenoids cheaply. As a bonus, the process probably could use industrial waste streams such as the whey from cheese production as feedstock. The specific target for the project will be production of squalene, an isoprenoid now extracted from shark liver oil commodity priced at $32 per pound. As a result of the high cost, it can be used economically only in small market applications such as watch lubricants, pharmaceuticals, perfumes, and as an intermediate for high-value chemicals. Because it has attractive properties, including ready biodegradability, a cheap fermentation process would greatly expand the application for squalene as a lubricant additive, hydraulic fluid, and lubricant base oil. The potential market for biodegradable lubricants is huge. While the project's immediate target is squalene production, the technology developed should be easily extensible to the production of other commercially important isoprenoids.
San Diego, CA
Project length: 3 years
ATP funds: $1,043 K
Cost-shared funds (est.): $294 K
Total project funds (est.): $1,337 K
Contact: Dr. Keith A. Walker, (619) 453-8030, walker [at] mycogen.com (walker[at]mycogen[dot]com)