Taste-Maker Allylix Prepares to Make “Nootkatone” a Household Word, as San Diego Gains Momentum in Industrial Biotechnology

8/18/10Follow @bvbigelow

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different characteristics. Each version has the same number and type of atoms, and each would have the same wavelength under spectral analysis. But the 3-D structure of each one is different—and has a different interaction with receptors for taste and smell.

“One compound may have absolutely no fragrance at all,” Fritz said. “Another could have a mild fragrance. One could smell bad, and one could smell really good and be very strong—and we just want that one.”

For a company developing commercial fragrances or flavors, the problem can be bewildering. Before Allylix came along, terpenes were expensive to extract commercially, and no one knew how to use conventional chemistry to make them—and that’s where the biology came in. “The beauty of biology is that biological systems are designed to create just one version,” Fritz said, “whereas chemical synthesis creates a mixture.”

The technology Allylix uses was developed by Joseph Chappell, a plant biologist at the University of Kentucky, and Joseph Noel, a structural biologist and biochemist at the Salk Institute in San Diego. In late 2004, Allylix acquired the rights to this technology and began working on ways to genetically engineer yeast to manufacture the desired terpene.

To get this far, Fritz says Allylix has raised a total of $15 million in funding (including the $9M round in April) from seven investor groups: Tate and Lyle Ventures in the U.K., Midpoint Food and Ag in Indiana, Avrio Ventures of Canada, the Tech Coast Angels, Pasadena Angels, and Blue Grass Angels. “The companies that invest in industrial biotech are not the same companies that invest in pharma,” Fritz said. “The nice thing for us is that they really understand our markets, and they really understand what we do.”

Allylix is among several industrial biotech startups that … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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