Modular Genetics, Inc. (Modular) and scientists and engineers at Columbia University, Iowa State University (ISU) and the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center (LSU AgCenter) were awarded a one-year $200,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) RAPID Response grant on August 18th, 2010. The grant supports work on production and testing of bio-dispersants that can replace the chemical dispersants currently used for oil spill management.
Modular Genetics used its proprietary automated system for microbial strain engineering to rapidly develop a collection of novel, highly engineered microorganisms that can synthesize bio-dispersants. Bio-dispersants made by microorganisms through the natural process of fermentation can replace use of traditional petroleum-based dispersants, such as those used in the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Bio-dispersants are as effective as petrochemical dispersants, but are made from underutilized agricultural waste, are more readily biodegradable, and are expected to be less toxic. The NSF funds will be used to produce and test these bio-dispersants.
A team at the ISU Center for Crops Utilization Research will use the natural process of fermentation to produce the bio-dispersants. They will deliver the bio-dispersants to a team at Columbia University who will measure the ability of each preparation to disperse oil samples collected from the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Bio-dispersants found to be effective will be evaluated by a team at the LSU AgCenter to determine their toxicity to organisms that are critical to the Gulf ecosystem and economy.
Brent Erickson, Executive Vice President of the Industrial and Environmental Section at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), offered this perspective: ”Modular Genetics is one among a new breed of chemical companies that is using synthetic biology and other industrial biotechnology tools to produce useful chemicals that are biodegradable, less toxic to the environment, and made through cleaner processes with renewable raw materials. This particular project demonstrates how synthetic biology can enable companies to more rapidly engineer biological solutions to the most urgent problems of our time. The National Science Foundation’s RAPID Response grant appropriately highlights this unique ability of synthetic biology.”