We are harnessing the renewable nature of plants to make bioplastics, renewable chemicals and bioenergy from crops. The centerpiece of the Metabolix’s plant technology is polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB), the simplest member of the broad polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) family of biopolymers. While applications for PHAs have focused mainly on their use as biodegradable bioplastics, these polymers have a number of other unique features that will allow their use in other applications, such as the production of chemical intermediates and their use as value-added feeds. We are creating proprietary systems to produce PHB in high quantity in the leaves of biomass crops or seeds of oilseed crops for these multiple applications.
Our work in crops highlights our leading edge capabilities and research targeting multi-gene expression and transformation of plants. Researchers at Metabolix have designed novel, multi-gene expression systems to increase production of PHB in plant tissue. The science behind this shift in metabolism is complex since the goal is to significantly increase production of PHB to be viable at industrial scale without impairing the ability of the plant to thrive in its natural environment. Using tobacco as a demonstration system for proof of concept, Metabolix researchers have published results demonstrating that production of high levels of PHB, up to an average 18% in leaves and 9% in the biomass of the entire tobacco plant, can be achieved. In addition to tobacco, Metabolix is developing different genetic engineering systems for different plant crops including switchgrass, oilseeds and sugarcane.
Switchgrass, a high yielding, warm season, perennial grass that is indigenous to North America, holds promise as a crop to target for commercial PHB production. The renewable fuels industry is showing a high level of interest in switchgrass as an attractive biomass to energy crop for cellulose-derived production of ethanol and other biofuels.
Camelina is an industrial oilseed crop that has been introduced to the high plain regions of Canada and parts of the United States. Due to the high oil content (~35%) of its seeds, its frost tolerance, short production cycle (60-90 days), and insect resistance, it is receiving considerable attention as a platform for the production of industrial products.
Sugarcane is a high yielding biomass crop that grows well in tropical climate zones including South America, Australia, parts of Asia, and select temperate regions in the US. Due to its high biomass production, it is a suitable target for co-production of bioplastics with sugar and lignocellulosic material that can be used for the production of liquid fuels.
Metabolix is developing an extensive portfolio of intellectual property covering our inventions in crop-based technology and has been awarded more than 30 patents to date. In addition, Metabolix researchers and academic collaborators have published our research results in peer reviewed scientific journals.