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Class Notes May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

Entrepreneur's Corner:
From Petro to Bio


Christophe Schilling, PhD. ’00, launched ­Genomatica along with Bernhard Palsson, the Galetti Professor of Bioengineering at UCSD, in 2000. Their aim was to enable the chemical industry, through Genomatica’s novel bio-manufacturing processes, to transform its feedstock base and take the “petro” out of the “petro-chemicals” business. They set out to accomplish this by reengineering the genomes of microorganisms such as bacteria and yeast, which are used as living chemical factories. Schilling raised $3 million to launch the company, as well as over $10 million in ­research and development funding from the ­Department of Energy, National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense, and the National Science Foundation. One of Genomatica’s unique tools is SimPheny, a software that decodes a microorganism’s genome data into a list of molecular components and enables the construction of computer models of the microbe’s metabolism. Using the “blueprints” generated by the modeling, Genomatica’s researchers can then genetically engineer microorganisms to create microbes that are optimized to produce chemicals.

One of Genomatica’s processes uses 100 percent renewable feedstocks and genetically engineered organisms to create 1,4-Butanediol (BDO), a common chemical that is a major component of plastics found in automobile components and fibers such as spandex. Genomatica’s researchers also recently developed a bio-manufacturing process for methyl ethyl ketone (MEK). A commonly used industrial solvent, MEK has a market global value of more than $2 billion.

In 2007, Genomatica, which is privately owned, successfully secured over $20 million in financing from leading capital venture firms Mohr Davidow Ventures (MDV), Alloy Ventures and Draper Fisher Jurvetson. The company currently has 40 employees.  



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