Plants that make PHA - if it is up to Yield10 Bioscience, Inc. an agricultural bioscience company, this is the future. The company, which is based in Woburn, Massachusetts, has now announced the successful field testing of prototype lines of the oilseed Camelina sativa that have been programmed to produce PHA bioplastics directly in seed.
Currently produced by fermentation of engineered microbes, PHA are natural polymers that are prevalent in nature and fully biodegradable in the environment. PHA polymers also have applications in water treatment where they act as a zero-waste solution to nitrate pollution and as animal feed ingredients.
Yield10, formerly Metabolix, has a long history with and deep knowledge of PHAs. It sees the direct production of PHA in seed, as a co-product with oil and protein meal, as potentially able to make the production of PHA bioplastics on an agricultural scale possible - at costs in line with commodity vegetable oils.
The company’s latest results, demonstrating proof-of-concept for field production of PHA in Camelina sativa, are promising, to say the least. The prototype plants tested in these studies were programmed with microbial genes based on a recent patent filed for new technology developed by Yield10 researchers to produce Camelina seed containing high levels of PHA bioplastic suitable for field production.
The levels of PHA produced in seed at the two different locations were consistent and measured up to 6 percent PHA of mature seed weight depending on the plant line tested.
Yield10 is now planning larger-scale field testing in 2021, pending the issuance of permits in the U.S.
In the longer term, the company aims to increase the PHA content of seed to about 20 percent of the mature seed weight, to further develop herbicide tolerant varieties ‘to drive production costs as low as possible’, said Kristi Snell, Ph.D., vice president of research and chief science officer of Yield10 Bioscience.
Each PHA application area has different price points and scale requirements, and will have different PHA content requirements for commercial launch. Yield10 believes that PHA content in the range of 5 to 20 percent of mature seed weight in Camelina would address the range of target applications.
“Our development of Camelina as a new platform crop to produce proprietary products is aligned with global trends to a low carbon economy,” said Oliver Peoples, Ph.D., president and chief executive officer of Yield10 Bioscience.
The near-term commercial effort is focussed on launching the Camelina business to produce oil for renewable diesel and as a fish oil supplement for aquaculture feed, he added.
“We believe the drop-in fish oil replacement technology is currently closer to commercialization and could provide some of the resources we will need to develop PHA in Camelina,” he said.