Bioproduction Tech Promises to Decarbonize Industries from Food to Fuel

Circe, a startup born at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, has signed a licensing agreement to commercialize a novel bioproduction technology that could reduce the carbon emissions of industries ranging from food to aviation fuel.

The technology, developed in the lab of Wyss Core Faculty member Pamela Silver, Ph.D., harnesses the power of microbes to manufacture valuable molecules using greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.

Harnessing the Power of Microbes to Decarbonize Industries

Circe’s technology leverages the natural ability of certain microbes to “eat” greenhouse gases and, through synthetic biology, tweaks their metabolisms to produce molecules identical to those found in sugars, fats, biodegradable plastics, and biofuels. Co-founders Shannon Nangle, Ph.D., and Marika Ziesack, Ph.D., have already demonstrated the potential of their platform by creating the world’s first gas fermentation-derived chocolate, offering a solution to global food supply chain interruptions and reducing the industry’s carbon footprint.

“In order to ensure that the Earth is habitable for future generations of humans, we urgently need to decarbonize industries and start reversing the damage we’ve caused to the planet. Microbes are wonderful living machines that we can leverage to produce the things we need for everyone to live a happy, comfortable life while reducing pollution, land use, and fossil fuel consumption,” said Silver, who is also the Elliot T. and Onie H. Adams Professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School (HMS).

Triglycerides and Beyond: Circe’s Innovative Product Pipeline

Circe’s first products in development are triglycerides, the molecules that make up the fats, butters, and oils we consume and use daily. The team is also exploring other types of fats, such as milkfat for dairy and non-dairy milk products, and palm oil for the food and cosmetics industries, as well as sustainable fuels.

The startup’s fermentation platform was created and significantly de-risked at the Wyss Institute through its validation pipeline, which provides aspiring entrepreneurs with the resources and support needed to transition their teams and technologies from the lab to the real world. Circe has already raised more than $8 million from investors and has been recognized with several accolades for its innovative concept.

“For centuries, humans’ relationship with Nature has been dominated by extraction, destruction, and consumption. A paradigm shift to one of conservation, regeneration, and co-production using Nature’s building materials rather than harsh chemicals is starting to happen, but at much too slow a pace. The Circe team’s technology has the potential to speed up the transition to a future in which we work with Nature to produce what we need, rather than exploiting it,” said Don Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., the Wyss Institute’s Founding Director.

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