Scientists from Sapphire Energy, UCSD, Scripps, and Protelica Show Genetically Modified Algae Can Make Important Drugs
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garden-variety green algae known as Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, was not universally successful. Of seven proteins that the group selected, Mayfield says the algae expressed four at levels sufficient for commercial production. “No one is really sure why some protein express and other don’t, that’s just the way it goes in all expression systems, ours included,” Mayfield says.
Mayfield, an expert in the genetics of algae, is a co-founder of the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology and a scientific co-founder of Sapphire, which is developing algae-based biofuels with funding from Bill Gates’ Cascade Investments, Arch Venture Partners, and others. He tells me that the researchers filed patents on the technology and Sapphire holds the license.
Two years ago, Sapphire acquired Rincon Pharmaceuticals, a biotech that Mayfield co-founded to commercialize his research—which included recombinant DNA techniques for inserting human genes into algae, prompting the cells to make human proteins. Mayfield tells me he hopes to launch an algae protein expression company this year to commercialize the system, “and will be out pitching this to venture groups in the next few months.”