Nov 2, 2023

Deploying PHA in Camelina—A Key Milestone Toward Environmental Sustainability

Deploying PHA in Camelina cover image

Our vision as a company is to develop biotechnology solutions that improve crop performance for the sake of global food security and environmental sustainability. As one of our core values, environmental sustainability has been at the center of our over-decade-long research and development of PHA bioplastic in Camelina seeds.

At the beginning of 2021, we announced the successful field testing of the Camelina prototype lines that we have engineered to produce PHA bioplastics directly within the seed. This success has brought us closer to realizing our commercial vision of PHA bioplastics made in Camelina as a viable alternative to conventional petroleum-based plastics, which are a source of excessive environmental waste worldwide.  

The issue with conventional plastic

Although recycling has become more prevalent in recent years, Americans are still generating more plastic waste than ever before. 

According to National Geographic, plastic pollution is still a huge problem and without any new solutions to manage waste beyond what's implemented today, forecasts suggest that 99 million tons of uncontrolled plastic waste would end up in the environment by 2030.

Plastic is so harmful to the environment due to its extremely long lifespan and toxic pollutants. For plastic to break down, it takes hundreds or even thousands of years. This causes long-lasting damage to the environment. 

All living organisms in the food chain are affected by the toxic pollutants within plastics. From tiny species like plankton to bigger fish that people consume as food, these pollutants travel from one organism to another, causing harm along the way.

A potential solution—PHA bioplastic

Beyond the efforts made on an individual level by environmentally-conscious people to recycle and eliminate plastic from their lives, more large-scale solutions are needed to effectively address the damage and prevent the widespread over-use of plastic from causing further harm.

This is where PHA comes in. PHAs are bio-based, biodegradable plastics that are naturally produced by some microbes as carbon storage molecules.

Our predecessor company, Metabolix, was a pioneer in the development of advanced PHA bioplastics production technology using engineered microbes and fermentation. Drawing from this experience across the PHA bioplastics value chain, we have been working on developing methods to produce PHA bioplastics in Camelina seeds for over a decade.

We believe that the direct production of PHA in Camelina seeds as a co-product with oil and protein meal has the potential to enable the production of PHA bioplastics on an agricultural scale at costs in line with commodity vegetable oils to drive large-scale adoption in the plastics markets. The ultimate goal is to use PHA bioplastics in the manufacturing of a wide range of fully biodegradable consumer products.

Producing PHA bioplastic in field-grown Camelina plants

Based on our most recent patent-pending technology to produce Camelina seeds with high levels of PHA bioplastic for field production, we were able to test prototype plants that we have programmed with microbial genes. We've grown several Camelina lines in small plots at field test sites across the US and Canada. 

Although our engineered PHA Camelina lines emerged and matured later than our control plants, they have still exhibited good levels of vigor, branching, flowering, and seed set. More notably, we've discovered that all engineered PHA Camelina lines tested produced PHA in the seed.

The PHA levels produced in seeds were consistent and measured up to 6% PHA of mature seed weight depending on the plant line tested, demonstrating proof-of-concept for field production of PHA in Camelina sativa using the new technology.

Considerations for the future

Our advancements in using Camelina as a platform crop for producing PHA bioplastic have encouraged us to continue our mission to develop low-cost, large-scale, carbon-negative, and zero-waste bioplastic. We are currently working to systematically increase PHA seed content for enhanced harvest value. 

Moving forward, we will be performing larger-scale field testing in 2021 with two of our PHA Camelina lines that were selected based on the results described above. This will help us generate additional field data and determine the suitability of our PHA lines for initial commercial activities. Currently, we believe that 5% to 20% PHA content of mature seed weight in Camelina would address the full range of target applications for PHA bioplastic. Based on this, we plan to extract the PHA bioplastic from Camelina seeds for product prototyping, sampling, and business development. As Kristi Snell, our Ph.D., vice president of research and chief science officer, said:

“Insights from our field tests as well as our expertise for increasing carbon flow in Camelina from our GRAIN platform are expected to enable us to make further improvements to increase yields of PHA per acre. Although not essential for initial commercial launch, our long-term technology goal is to increase the PHA content of seed to about 20% of the mature seed weight and combine that with advanced higher-yielding, herbicide-tolerant varieties currently in development to drive production costs as low as possible.”

Although more R&D is needed, we are getting closer and closer to a world where PHA bioplastic can start making a real, impactful difference in our environment. 

Our blog posts contain forward-looking statements. These statements are not guarantees of future performance, and therefore, you should not place undue reliance on them. Investors are also cautioned that statements that are not strictly historical, constitute forward-looking statements. Such forward-looking statements are subject to a number of risks and uncertainties that could cause the actual results to differ materially from those anticipated. These risks include risks and uncertainties detailed in Yield10’s filings (10-K and 10-Q) with the SEC. The company undertakes no obligation to update any forward-looking statements in order to reflect events or circumstances that may arise after the date of the publication of the blog post.