Tag Archives: Evolva

Ingredients Made via Synthetic Biology Do Not Qualify for Non-GMO Project Verified Stamp

The Non-GMO Project is a nonprofit organization with the aim of providing consumers with digestible information on whether or not commercial products contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The project issues a non-GMO seal that food producers can incorporate in their packaging. The seal indicates compliance with the standards set by the project. According to the Non-GMO Project, as of September 2013, the sales of Project Verified products exceeded $3.5 billion. This represents a more than 300% increase from the same period in 2012.

The Non-GMO Project created quite a buzz in the food biotechnology space when it published the latest version of its standards two weeks ago, in which it states that “any product or process of synthetic biology” disqualifies a food product from obtaining its non-GMO seal. Thus, food ingredients made using synthetic biology techniques – such as Evolva’s GM yeast-derived vanillin – do not qualify for the Non-GMO Project Verified stamp. The ruling has been accused of being unfair and confusing for producers trying to navigate the GMO labeling minefield. In Evolva’s case, for example, strictly speaking, Evolva’s vanillin is GMO-free as the GM yeast used to produce it only serves as a processing tool and is absent in the final product. The absence of any GM ingredients in the product means that Evolva’s vanillin would not require a GMO label in Europe. However, as the vanillin’s production process incorporates synthetic biology steps, the vanillin does not pass the stricter requirement stipulated by the Non-GMO Project.

As can be expected, Evolva did not react favorably to the development. In an article in Food Navigator, Stephan Herrera, VP of Strategy & Public Affairs at Evolva, is quoted saying that he was not surprised by the Non-GMO Project’s decision. He stated, “Well, I guess this decision removes any remaining doubts about whether their certification is based on food politics or food science. The vanillin molecule we are making is chemically identical to the vanillin already on the market, so why would it present a unique health risk?”

At Lux, we identify with the broad scientific consensus that food products on the market today derived from GM crops pose no greater risk to human health than conventional food. However, as we reported previously, the genetically modified food suffers from a corrosive image problem, exacerbated by the public’s lack of knowledge in the field. According to a poll done by ABC News, in the U.S., barely more than a third of the public believes that genetically modified foods are safe to eat, with more than half (52%) believing such foods are unsafe.

In the long run, the public may gradually understand that GMOs and GM foods are not the evils their opponents paint them to be. However, a change in public opinion will be a sluggish process, and until then, food products that are obliged by law to put a “GM” stamp in their packaging risk suffering from a certain degree of public rejection. As such, we urge clients to ensure that their products meet the non-GM standard stipulated by the governing health authorities, while at the same time share the tasks of educating the public about the pros and cons of genetic modification.

Dow AgroSciences and Valent BioSciences Each up the Ante on Biological Crop Protection, but Whose Bet Will Pay Off More Quickly?

In separate press releases, both Dow AgroSciences and Valent BioSciences made announcements demonstrating new commitments to biological crop protection. Dow AgroSciences announced a partnership with Radiant Genomics, a metagenomics company. Sumitomo Chemical’s subsidiary Valent BioSciences announced a partnership with Evolva, a company with expertise in developing engineered yeast strains. Both collaborations will aim to develop and discover novel biological actives for crop protection, with Dow AgroSciences focusing on discovery and scale production of natural products and Valent BioSciences working on scale production of actives using engineered yeast. These partnerships are reminiscent of the December 2013 announcement by Monsanto and Novozymes (client registration required) of the BioAg Alliance, also targeting biological crop protection products.

Dow AgroSciences has demonstrated past success with its spinosad-based insecticide product lines like Entrust and Conserve. Spinosad is a natural product insecticide, isolated from a naturally occurring bacterial strain called Saccharopolyspora spinosa. The company has demonstrable expertise in scaling up production once a valuable biological active ingredient is identified – which is what makes the partnership with Radiant Genomics (client registration required) highly valuable. Radiant has expertise in identifying such promising candidates, using metagenomics to identify the genes required to synthesize candidate compounds. This partnership will bring together discovery and scalability, and should yield rapid progress.

Valent BioSciences has also demonstrated success with scale production of biological actives for crop protection. The company owns the largest purpose-built biorational facility in the world, which it just opened in mid-2014. To date, its catalog of agricultural products has been focused on microbials and plant growth regulators, rather than insecticides or fungicides. While Evolva has demonstrated expertise in producing specialty chemicals like resveratrol and vanillin, it is a new entrant to the agriculture industry. Evolva will need to successfully navigate a steep learning curve to apply its expertise to this new sector. While the two companies will work together on manufacturing, Valent BioSciences will likely use parent Sumitomo Chemical Company’s global distribution network to aid in commercialization.

While both partnerships have promise, Dow AgroSciences’ work with Radiant Genomics is definitely poised for quicker success as it brings together teams with existing expertise in this industry. Valent BioSciences and Evolva also appear positioned to work well together, but will need to navigate the transition of Evolva’s expertise from food and fragrance ingredients to crop protection ingredients. Regardless of speed, both bets are likely to pay off in new biological crop protection products. For others considering getting into the space, these announcements make clear that the time is now to find a partner and enter the fray. Clients should look to emulate these representative partnerships – earnestly identify your own expertise, and then look for a partner that fills your gaps and/or extends your reach for the best, most rapid success.

Materials suppliers follow consumer brand owners into synthetic biology

Consumer goods material suppliers continue to turn to synthetic biology for advanced products and delivery systems. A few months ago at the Metabolic Design summit, Steve He, who is responsible for acquisition of sustainability technologies at Henkel, said the company is collaborating with Arizona State University to see whether CO2-fed algae could synthesize high-value, renewable oils, and surfactants.

Elsewhere, Evolva’s Pascal Longchamps described the company’s synthetic biology platform, and how it’s applied for partners like Roche (cancer drugs), BASF, and the U.S. Army (antimicrobials). The company creates yeast artificial chromosomes (eYACs) that combine genes from “trees, from coral, from the brain” – apparently not meant as casual examples – into one new organism. For example, Evolva has developed a pathway for producing Stevia (a sweetener found in certain plants) in yeast. The company was collaborating with Abunda*, which it acquired in April.

We also spoke with Marcus Wyss of DSM Nutritional Products, which aims to become the cosmetic industry’s leading supplier by building a product portfolio with designed metabolic processes. The company is a sponsor of the BioFAB consortium based at SynBERC, and it is also contemplating agricultural waste as a feedstock for bio-based chemicals and materials. Also, Wyss specifically said DSM’s recent acquisition of Martek will bring “significant improvement” to its algal biotechnology abilities.

Lastly, we noted that Roquette’s partnership with Solazyme* has deepened into a JV, as successful partnerships often do (see the report: “Green Materials’ Social Networks”)*.

These examples of how bio-based materials and chemicals suppliers are supporting brand owners only appear cutting-edge. In reality, brand owners are leading the suppliers. Procter and Gamble has been using genomics and proteomics technology since the 1990s, even publishing papers on the subject. In the last twelve months, it struck a supply deal with Amyris, invested in personal genomics company Navigenics *, and opened a collaboration with the Institute for Systems Biology to study skin conditions ranging from aging to cancer. Similarly, Unilever has been acting like a drug company* for several years*. It is now using controlled-release biopolymers to deliver encapsulated lipids,* and investing* in its partner Solazyme*.

We expect to see more companies use biotechnology to improve food and cosmetics by blazing new routes to known and new substances, applying delivery technologies to improve substance benefits, and using their products as delivery technologies in and of themselves. These strategies are part of the broader trend of convergence of food, cosmetics, chemicals, and medicine, driven aggressively by BASF* and DSM*. Clients should note that these technologies are maturing at an opportune moment for companies looking to enter pharmaceuticals, as the collapse of drug majors clears the way for new entrants from delivery,* consumer products, and even the electronics industries*.

* Client registration required.