Nov 2, 2023

Yield10 Researchers Publish Paper Demonstrating Advanced Technology Enabling the Successful Coproduction of PHA Biopolymer and Oil in the Seed of Camelina

PHA biopolymer and oil in the seed of Camelina paper

We are thrilled to announce the publication of a paper on our advanced technology enabling the successful coproduction of polyhydroxyalkanoate (“PHA”) biopolymer and oil in the seed of Camelina in the latest issue of Plant Biotechnology Journal. PHA-based biomaterials are of significant interest for their use as biodegradable replacements for petroleum plastics in a range of applications. This work represents the achievement of a significant milestone towards engineering of Camelina to produce PHA biopolymer for commercial use.  At scale, this technology could enable low-cost production of biodegradable polymers for the plastics markets along with low-carbon feedstock oil for the renewable fuel markets.    

Our paper describes a new technology solution for deploying the PHB pathway in Camelina. Specifically, the technology involves localizing two of the PHB-pathway enzymes in the cytosol of the cell and anchoring the third enzyme in the pathway to the face of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). This ER-targeted approach that we developed was found to provide stable polymer production with PHB levels of up to 10.2% of the mature seed weight.

This technology also produced Camelina seed that demonstrated good emergence and survival under growth chamber and greenhouse conditions. Our team isolated the polymer from Camelina seed and characterized the material to verify that the material produced by the pathway was high molecular weight PHB. In 2019, we filed a patent on this novel approach for producing PHA in the seed of Camelina.   

“Successfully producing PHA in Camelina seed is a real challenge. Our PHA pathway uses bacterial genes encoding enzymes for polymer production that capture carbon from plant pathways to produce PHA. Once the PHA starts to be produced, the presence of increasing levels of PHA cause an impairment of plant emergence,” said Meghna Malik, Ph.D., a Senior Director at Yield10 Oilseeds and first author on the paper.  “The key finding in this research is that we were able to develop a novel way to deploy the pathway so that we can make high levels of PHA biopolymer while maintaining the viability and vigor of Camelina seed. Our team continues to generate insights that will lead us to our goal of producing PHA at commercially relevant levels in Camelina in plants that display excellent growth and yield.” 

“Yield10 is a pioneer in the development of elite Camelina and technology for producing PHA polymers in crops,” said Kristi Snell, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer of Yield10 Bioscience and corresponding author on the study. “Our vision for this program is to utilize elite Camelina as a production platform to enable low-cost, large-scale agricultural coproduction of biodegradable polymers and feedstock oil for the global plastics and renewable fuels markets.”  

Our program has advanced significantly over the last three years. The field tests we conducted in 2020 and 2021 with prototype PHB containing Camelina produced up to approximately six percent PHB in the mature seed. In 2022, our team planted PHB containing Camelina at acre-scale and harvested seed to be used for PHB extraction and other business development activities. Yield10 researchers recently deployed our PHA technology in winter Camelina and are evaluating the trait for the first time in a winter variety in field trials that were planted in fall 2022 and harvested recently. Next steps for the program include the development of elite PHA Camelina lines with PHA yields in the 10 to 20 percent range, as well as the engineering of PHA copolymers in Camelina.

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