15 Juli 2013

Modular Genetics Demonstrates Production of Bio-Derived Glycinate, an Ultra-Mild Surfactant

Company developed "green" purification method for surfactants

Modular Genetics, Inc. (Modular) is a sustainable chemistry company utilizing advanced technology in synthetic biology to produce specialty chemicals that are cost competitive, provide superior performance and are environmentally friendly.

Modular’s lead product is a patented “green” surfactant called acyl glutamate initially targeted to the personal care market (http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20110328005193/en/Modular-Genetics-Issued-Notice-Allowance-Patent-Application). Modular produces this surfactant by fermentation using a microorganism developed using Modular’s synthetic biology technology. A key goal for the company is to demonstrate that synthetic biology can be used to produce additional new surfactants, beyond acyl glutamate. Modular has successfully completed Phase I of a project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) (http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1248115&HistoricalAwards=false). The goals of the project were: to demonstrate bio-production of an acyl glycinate surfactant, to demonstrate Modular’s proprietary “green” purification method can be used to purify the surfactant, and to ship a sample of the surfactant to a customer for evaluation. Modular produced and purified the glycinate, and colleagues at Unilever confirmed the identity of the glycinate, and confirmed that it has been purified to high level of purity.

Dr. K.P. Ananthapadmanabhan, Sr. Principal Research Scientist at Unilever, offers this perspective: “Recently Unilever set itself an ambitious agenda of doubling its business whilst reducing the environmental impact on several indicators such as Water, Greenhouse Gases and Waste. Unilever has taken a holistic approach in achieving this goal by not only investing in efficient and environmentally friendly processes, choice of raw materials, new technologies, etc, but also by educating consumers about the multiple benefits of using new, effective and environmentally friendly product ingredients. More information on Unilever’s sustainability initiatives can be found in our website: www.sustainable-living.unilever.com/

Consistent with our mission, Unilever R&D has been proactive in reaching out to suppliers, manufacturers, and start-ups that can make materials like glycinate-based amino-acid surfactants through “green” processes, for these are important ingredients in many of our products. In particular, Modular’s approach of using engineered microorganisms to convert underutilized agricultural material into useful chemical products through microbial fermentation has enormous potential in addressing our future needs. We currently use Glycinate surfactant synthesized by conventional processes in personal care applications, because of its ability to provide higher order skin benefits. Use of Glycinate synthesized by microbial fermentation represents a significant advance towards our sustainability goals.”

Brent Erickson, Executive Vice President, Industrial and Environmental Section, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), offers this perspective: “The chemical industry manufactures 70,000 different products. Most of these products are manufactured using “synthetic chemistry” to convert petroleum into chemicals. If biotechnology is going to revolutionize the chemical industry, we need to demonstrate how “synthetic biology” can be used to convert agricultural feedstocks into a wide range of biobased products. Modular’s production of a second bio-surfactant should provide confidence that further investment in the industrial biotech sector will accelerate the rate of innovation and creation of new bio-derived products”. In addition, McKinsey Consulting estimates that 50,000 organic chemicals produced from petroleum can be made from renewable feedstocks, over a $1 trillion market.

About Modular:
Modular is applying its proprietary advanced technology in synthetic biology to produce products that are cost competitive, provide superior performance and are environmentally friendly. Based in Woburn, MA, Modular is a privately-held company.

Source: Modular Genetics, Inc., press release, 2013-07-15.

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