Synthetic biology pioneers team up to create 'powerhouse in yeast fermentation technologies'

Evolva to expand microbial fermentation empire with acquisition of Allylix

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

synthetic biology firm Evolva to buy Allylix for stevia, flavors

Related tags Stevia Bacteria Yeast

Evolva - the Swiss ‘synthetic biology’ company developing stevia, vanillin, and other ingredients via microbial fermentation - is to acquire San Diego-based Allylix to create a “true powerhouse in yeast-based fermentation technologies”.

Both companies have attracted a lot of interest recently as food manufacturers explore the potential of 'next generation' microbial fermentation techniques to produce flavors, sweeteners and other ingredients more efficiently than is possible by chemical synthesis or extraction from plants.

Allylix’s most advanced products are Nootkatone (an aroma molecule found in grapefruit that also serves as a natural insect repellent); and Valencene (an orange flavor and fragrance used in food & beverage, personal care and household products).

Aside from Nootkatone and Valencene, Allylix also has several new fermentation-derived ingredients in the pipeline including a ‘brewed’ version of sandalwood oil, a fragrance currently in short supply due to over-harvesting and illegal logging of sandalwood trees (click HERE​).

Deal will help Evolva ‘substantially improve stevia manufacturing efficiencies’

The acquisition is not just about expanding Evolva's product portfolio, said Evolva CEO Neil Goldsmith, but tapping into Allylix’s R&D capabilities in order to speed up the development of Evolva’s existing products, from saffron and agarwood to next-generation stevia sweeteners such as Reb D and Reb M.

 “Evolva gains know-how and issued patents that enhance its proprietary position and substantially improve stevia manufacturing efficiencies.”

As Evolva and Allylix are both “focused entirely on yeast​”, there are also synergies in molecular biology, analytical chemistry, production, application development, regulatory, business development, marketing and sales, he said.

“The combination creates a true powerhouse in yeast based fermentation technologies.”

Evolva and Cargill are best placed to achieve success in fermentation-derived stevia

Carolyn Fritz, CEO at Allylix, added: “Since our founding in 2004, Allylix has established a world-class R&D team in yeast metabolic engineering, scaled our processes to full industrial production, and commercialized two products.

Over the past decade, Allylix has secured $33.5m in funding from firms including Bluegrass Angels, Tate & Lyle Ventures, Tech Coast Angels, Cultivian Ventures, Avrio Ventures, and BASF Venture Capital GmbH

“We have built a leading patent position on producing terpenes by fermentation, which has attracted interest from leading stevia players. We see Evolva and its partner Cargill as the best placed to achieve significant commercial success in fermentation-derived stevia.”

Under the deal - which is expected to close by mid-December - Evolva will acquire 100% of Allylix in return for 46 million newly-issued Evolva shares (c. 14.1% of Evolva post transaction). Cargill, which has partnered with Evolva on its stevia program, will invest $4m in Evolva shares.

What do Evolva and Allylix do?

While producing food ingredients from yeast or other micro-organisms is not new, companies such as Evolva and Allylix have attracted controversy as the yeast which they use to convert simple sugars into food ingredients has been genetically engineered using new synthetic biology or ‘synbio’ techniques.

By understanding how plants produce enzymes to turn simple sugars into desirable compounds such as steviol glycosides, Evola and Allylix have worked out how to manufacture them on an industrial scale in big fermentation tanks by inserting synthesized genes into the DNA of baker’s yeast that enable it to convert sugars into these compounds more efficiently than a plant can.

Plants contain many valuable compounds, but they may not be amenable to mass cultivation

In a recent interview, Evolva CEO Neil Goldsmith told FoodNavigator-USA how this applied to saffron: “We first identify the genes that the saffron crocus uses to turn sugar into saffron or different components of saffron. Now those genes will also occur in other plants, and the crocus will not have the best gene for every step in the cascade - so we take those genes from different plants and optimize them to work in yeast so that the yeast can make as much saffron as possible.

Neil Goldsmith Photo
Evolva CEO Neil Goldsmith: Plants contain many valuable compounds, but they may not be amenable to mass cultivation, or maybe the compound is only present in tiny amounts, or the product may have an unstable supply chain

“We synthesize genes as part of that process, but we’re not ‘printing fake DNA’. All genes are just sequences of data and these sequences change all the time in nature anyway.”

But why not just get saffron from the crocus?

Because it’s available in tiny quantities and will never be commercially viable as a mass market ingredient, he added: “Plants contain many valuable compounds, but they may not be amenable to mass cultivation, or maybe the compound is only present in tiny amounts, or the product may have an unstable supply chain​.”

In the case of vanillin, meanwhile, Evolva is offering a ‘greener’ alternative to chemical synthesis (the overwhelming majority of vanillin is currently made from petro-chemicals, not vanilla pods), he said.

Click HERE​ to read more about Evolva.

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