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On the Ground: Innovating in the Bioeconomy

From state-of-the art therapeutics to a new generation of plant-based bioproducts, Rausser College faculty, alumni, and affiliates are are advancing research within key sectors of the global bioeconomy and bringing these innovations to market.

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Manufacturing with microalgae

Tilden Bio makes plant essential oils and biopharmaceutical proteins using solar-powered microalgae that feed on carbon dioxide—a process developed in the lab of Plant and Microbial Biology Professor Anastasios Melis. Unlike in other manufacturing processes, the company uses blue-green microalgae that are capable of synthesizing and secreting ready-to-use products quickly and efficiently while pulling carbon in from the atmosphere.

State-of-the art therapeutics

Founded by Metabolic Biology Professor Anders Näär, Elenae Therapeutics has developed state-of-the-art treatments targeting pathological microRNAs that contribute to a range of diseases. They hope to address diabetes, morbid obesity, cardiovascular diseases, an advanced form of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, dry age-related macular degeneration, and Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

From fecal waste to biofuel

Sanivation is advancing sanitation in East Africa by converting fecal waste into biomass-based fuel. Co-founded by Emily Woods, MS ’18 Energy and Resources Group, the company partners with local governments to design, build, and operate fecal sludge treatment plants that produce fuel briquettes from local waste, providing a safe alternative to firewood for heating and cooking. Each plant is self-sustaining, with operational costs supported by the revenue generated from the sale of fuel.

Real honey without bees

Using precision fermentation and plant science, MeliBio produces sustainable, bee-free honey that matches the taste, quality, and nutrition of its traditional counterpart. The company’s plant-based honey aims to support populations of wild and native bee species by reducing ecosystem competition from commercial honey production. TIME magazine named their product one of the 100 Best Inventions of 2021. Aaron Schaller, PhD ’19 Molecular & Cell Biology, is co-founder and CTO.

A precise reflection of human milk

More than 180 human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs)—naturally occurring sugars that promote healthy immune systems and neurological development in infants—are found in breast milk. But sourcing and production issues make it hard for commercial infant formulas to include these critical nutrients. NAMUH is working to develop a nutritionally comparable alternative to breast milk that includes HMOs through an advanced yeast-based fermentation process. Co-founded by Chaeyoung Shin, PhD ’16 Chemical Engineering, the company received early support and guidance through participation in the Energy and Biosciences Institute’s incubator program.

New frontiers in medicine

Daniel Nomura, a professor in the departments of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology, Chemistry, and Molecular and Cell Biology, is pioneering the development of medicines that work against disease-causing proteins previously considered “undruggable.” He co-founded Frontier Medicines, a precision medicine company that is deploying groundbreaking scientific approaches in chemoproteomics, covalent drug discovery, and machine learning to develop medicines, starting with anticancer therapies. He also recently founded Vicinitas Therapeutics, a biotechnology company developing novel therapeutics for cancer and genetic disorders.

Biological solutions to control pests

Oxitec provides targeted, nontoxic, and environmentally sustainable biological solutions for controlling pests that spread disease, threaten food production, or harm ecosystems. Their Friendly™ technology creates male insect pests that carry a self-limiting gene, which prevents female offspring from surviving to adulthood, thus reducing pest insect populations. The company has commercialized Friendly mosquitoes in Brazil, partnered with the government of Djibouti to control malaria-spreading mosquitoes in the Horn of Africa, and developed Friendly moths that can counteract pest resistance to farmers’ crop protection tools. Rakim Turnipseed, PhD ’17 Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, is the company’s director of global field programs.