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Synthetic Bio Chemicals Start-Up Gains $5M in Early Funds

Brewer's yeast

Scanning electron microscope image of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, or brewer’s yeast (Mogana Das Murtey and Patchamuthu Ramasamy, Wikimedia Commons)

9 Aug. 2022. A new enterprise using digital and synthetic biology to create sustainable chemicals at industrial scale is raising $5 million in pre-seed round funds. Bluestem Biosciences Inc. in Omaha, Nebraska was founded earlier this year by entrepreneurs working in renewable fuels and biomanufacturing.

Bluestem Biosciences says it’s developing techniques for producing commodity chemicals from agricultural feedstocks with anaerobic fermentation, a process where microorganisms like bacteria or yeast break down carbohydrates in the absence of oxygen. Anaerobic fermentation is already shown to consume less energy than oxidized fermentation to produce molecules such as ammonia, acetate, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen. Bluestem Bio plans to extend the process with synthetic anaerobic microbes designed with computational techniques to produce chemicals without petroleum feedstocks, using raw materials produced sustainably from agriculture.

The company’s R&D director is Jared Wenger, who has a background in genetics that includes use of automation to engineer the genomes of microorganisms for production of small molecule chemical compounds. In a 2016 paper published in the journal Nature, Wenger was among the authors who engineered Saccharomyces cerevisiae or brewer’s yeast cells to produce farnesene, a type of isoprenoid, a hydrocarbon chemical used to make a wide range of industrial products. Their process, as reported in the paper, rewired the microbes to consume 75 percent less oxygen, which in turn reduced the need and costs for feedstocks and increased productivity.

“Digital biology is a game-changer”

Since its founding in January, Bluestem Bio filed a U.S. provisional patent application for its anaerobic bioproduction process. A provisional patent is, in effect, an intent to file a full patent in the next 12 months and provides an early claim to the technology in the patent.

The company credits digital tools applied to synthetic biology for its competitive advantage in the industry. “Digital biology is a game-changer and foundational to Bluestem’s differentiated approach,” says co-founder and chief technology officer Tyler Autera in a company statement released through Cision. “By leveraging these tools, Bluestem is augmenting discovery to accelerate science and our path to commercialization.”

Bluestem Biosciences is raising $5 million in pre-seed financing, led by venture investor Zero Infinity Partners in New York, with other venture and angel investors, including co-founder and CEO Billy Hagstrom. Among the investors is Matt Vining, CEO of Navigator CO2 Ventures, a company in Omaha capturing and sequestering carbon dioxide. Bluestem Bio is partnering with Navigator CO2 Ventures to capture carbon dioxide as a feedstock for Bluestem’s chemical production process.

“Bluestem’s technology and vision” says Vining, “represent how biology can transform existing infrastructure for the benefit of decarbonization and help develop future markets for carbon.”

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