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Chemical giant BASF and biotechnology company BioTork have struck up a deal to optimize certain microbial strains for the industrial production of bio-based polymers and green chemicals.

Heather Caliendo

June 22, 2012

3 Min Read
Updated: BASF and BioTork to collaborate on renewable chemicals

Ziad Ghanimi, BioTork communications manager, told PlasticsToday the company first met a team of BASF scientists in the spring of 2011 at a professional conference in France. That division within BASF was searching for new technologies capable of enhancing and complementing the metabolic engineering that BASF was making with the objective of improving the production process of several bio-based chemicals.

The company later learned that BASF had already identified a limited number of technologies with potential for the objectives they wanted to achieve, which included the adaptive evolution technology used by BioTork.

"Ultimately, if contact was not established during that conference, BASF would have initiated one with BioTork," Ghanimi said. "As the largest chemical company in the world, BASF is a partner with tremendous potential for a small biotechnology like ours."

BASF has been conducting intensive research on the use of microorganisms for the production of proteins, enzymes, vitamins and other high value and low cost chemicals. In their natural environment, microorganisms generally synthesize these chemicals only to meet their own requirements for survival, according to BioTork.

The challenge faced by chemical companies is to push these microorganisms to produce these chemicals faster, in much larger quantities, and under industrial conditions that are different from the microorganisms' natural environment. To achieve this goal, BASF is using metabolic engineering techniques to make targeted modifications to certain microorganisms in order to optimize bioconversion capability.

"A recently completed pilot study between BioTork and BASF demonstrated that these engineered microorganisms could be further optimized for maximal industrial performance using adaptive evolution," said Tom Lyons, chief scientific officer of BioTork. "Laboratory results confirm a synergy effect between the metabolic modifications engineered by BASF and the proprietary adaptive evolution technology used by BioTork."

BioTork is the holder of an exclusive license to use the adaptive technology of Evolugate in the fields of bio-based chemical and biofuel production.

The adaptive evolution technology used by BioTork is a platform technology that can enhance the industrial performance of any microorganism or living cell.

Ghanimi said the objective is to build a library of microorganisms capable of converting different types of biomass into all the products that are derived from petroleum today. Specifically, BioTork is focusing on the following segments: alcohol fuels, lipids, and basic and intermediate chemicals.

The Evolugate adaptive evolution technology is a continuous culture apparatus that selects the fittest genetic variants from among a population under controlled environmental conditions that mimic those needed for the most economical industrial process. After rounds of selection, which can achieve success in a matter of weeks or months, the microorganisms acquire capabilities that were absent from the original strain. These new capabilities provide the microbe with the potential to enhance industrial performance and thereby improve the economics of the process, the company stated.

BASF is already producing the chemicals that are targeted in this collaboration at commercial scale.

"The objective here is not to begin production but rather to improve the existing process in order to optimize the utilization of resources and reduce production costs," Ghanimi said. "The objective in the long run is to identify other areas of collaboration the companies can pull together their respective strengths and bring to the market more cost competitive bio-based chemicals."

A BASF spokesperson said the company will not disclose details at the moment, but did state "we can say that it is not primarily focused on bio-plastics."

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