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SBIR Phase II: Microbial conversion of pectin-rich agricultural byproducts into specialty chemicals


The broader impact/commercial potential of this Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II project is enabling commercialization of novel technologies that convert pectin-rich agricultural byproducts into useful specialty chemicals for existing multi-billion dollar chemical markets. The United States is a leading producer of pectin-rich byproducts, including the citrus (>5 million tons annually), apple (>5 million tons annually) and sugar beet (>37 million tons annually) industries. With this platform fermentation technology, it is possible to perform specific chemical conversion of these US byproducts into value-adding products. Implementation of this technology can increase overall revenue from crops far exceeding current byproduct mitigation strategies. This offers reduced volatility in crop value, financial sustainability for farmers, and construction of rural fermentation facilities. Furthermore, by using existing crop byproducts and eco-friendly fermentations, the resulting chemical products will be have lower environmental impact than competing chemicals made from petroleum or sugar.<br/> <br/>This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II project is designed to improve the conversion of industrial pectin-rich agricultural byproducts into specialty chemical products. Each year, large volumes of agricultural byproducts, such as citrus peels and sugar beet pulp are produced, but lack value-adding technologies. By using novel scientific breakthroughs in microbial metabolism and tools for strain engineering, microbial organisms can be engineered to convert the sugars from these byproducts into useful chemicals through environmentally sustainable fermentation. The goal of this Phase II project is to improve the production rate for the synthesis of the first chemical product using this technology. The first objective is to improve the oxidative metabolism of the host organism to aid in strain productivity. The second objective is to use a combinatorial library of strains to refine and optimize the microorganisms' fermentation rate. The final objective is to take the improved strains and optimize the fermentation conditions using bioreactors. This three pronged-approach promises to improve chemical production rates.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Luke Latimer
Zestbio, Inc.
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