The 20th century was the age of chemistry.
From the invention of chromatography in 1903, to the synthesis of ammonia in 1905, to the development of the Haber-Bosch process which allowed for the industrialization of fertilizer, technology in the early 1900s was grounded in chemistry like no other century.
And it didn’t slow down.
Leo Baekeland invented one of the first commercially successful plastics, bakelite, around this time too, followed by S.P.L. Sorensen’s work with the pH concept and Niels Bohr’s development of quantum mechanics. Organic chemistry took off in the 1920s, with many turning their attention to atomic and nuclear physics in the 1940s. All based on chemistry.
But this trend is changing.
In the 21st century, chemistry is no longer the driving force it once was. This is fast becoming the century of biology. Why? Computing power and artificial intelligence are bringing the innovations of the last 100 years to the natural, biological world. For instance, advances in biology and computation are allowing researchers to sustainably create animal-free, non-GMO proteins that provide consumers with the best high-performance ingredients nature has to offer.
Not only is this more environmentally friendly, it’s scalable. That’s important, because as the world’s population grows we’re going to need to effectively double the food supply by 2050 in order to feed the everyone on the planet.
Synthetic proteins and other innovations are going to be an important part of this equation.
A word about proteins
Proteins are an essential part of life, present in just about every living thing on Earth.
But they aren’t perfect.
As natural things, they have their limitations. They are imperfect. They are limited in terms of what they can do. And they are dependent on other living things to produce them. To date, there has been no way to reliably produce proteins on an industrial scale, due to these limitations.
This is why recombinant proteins are so useful.
Proteins are essential parts of organisms and participate in virtually every process within cells. Recombinant proteins are proteins that are manufactured using laboratory methods, bringing together genetic material from multiple sources, including genetically modified DNA, to create proteins. Recombinant DNA technology allows for the production of human and mammalian proteins in bulk.
Recombinant proteins are made from cloned DNA sequences which usually encode an enzyme or protein with known function.
This makes them incredibly useful as a source of important breakthroughs in biomedical biotechnology. Per Science Direct: “They are not only used in biomedical research but also in treatment, as drugs. The first recombinant protein used in treatment was recombinant human insulin in 1982. The recombinant protein industry has rapidly grown. To date, more than 130 recombinant proteins are approved by the US FDA for clinical use. However, more than 170 recombinant proteins are produced and used in medicine worldwide.”
By putting human, animal or plant genes into the genetic material of bacteria, mammalian or yeast cells, recombinant proteins can be used to make proteins for commercial use. Proteins manufactured through recombinant DNA technology are found in essentially every western pharmacy, doctor’s or veterinarian’s office, and laboratory.
In short: recombinant proteins can be adjusted via DNA in order to serve specific purposes.
And the market for this technology has widespread, cross-sector industrial applications, estimated at $497.7 billion in 2016, and growing to $844.6 billion by 2025.
Trouble is, recombinant proteins are difficult and expensive to manufacture, limiting their application to biotech and medical research.
But, as technology improves and drives down manufacturing costs, opportunities for recombinant proteins are emerging in new markets, including chemicals, food & beverage, and textiles. In each instance, recombinant substitutes can replace plant- or animal-derived proteins because they could be mass-produced at a lower cost.
Enter Geltor, a biotech startup based out of San Leandro, Calif.
Geltor’s scientists have developed a proprietary bio-design platform to discover and sustainably create natural, animal-free proteins designed for superior performance in consumer products. The process begins by identifying the ideal protein in nature for a critical consumer need, and then designing a microbe that efficiently turns plant-based sugars into that protein product through fermentation.
Its sustainable protein manufacturing process includes:
Designing: Molecules are combined and computationally optimized for protein functionality. By developing a protein’s natural functionality without regard for its natural abundance, the company is able to design the best possible materials.
Building: Geltor engineers organisms to build its designer proteins. These act as self-replicating factories, specialized in converting nutrients into performance ingredients.
Manufacturing: The company’s build its ingredients using a fermentation process that is similar to brewing. This highly controlled manufacturing technique allows it to produce ingredients with unmatched precision and accuracy. There are zero animal inputs used in the manufacturing process.
Customization: These bio-designed molecules are then formulated into precise and sustainable turnkey solutions for corporate customers across industries — food, beverage, cosmetics, etc — at scale.
Geltor’s first product is N-Collag, a proprietary, synthetic alternative to collagen. Collagen and its derivative gelatin are commonly sourced from pig skin, bovine hides, and animal bones, and are used as a gelling agent in food, pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, and cosmetic products. Compared to animal-derived collagen, N-Collagehas superior performance features, including improved molecular stability, odor profile, and appearance.