We have a significant track record and expertise in the metabolic engineering of plants. Our predecessor company, Metabolix, was a pioneer in the development of advanced PHA bioplastics production technology using engineered microbes and fermentation, and as a result, developed deep experience across the PHA bioplastics value chain. PHAs are naturally produced by some microbes as carbon storage molecules.
In addition, Metabolix supported a crop science research program to produce PHA biomaterials in crops as a potential low-cost production system. Historically, these efforts in crops were focused on producing PHB, the simplest member of the PHA family.
In its research, Yield10 has produced PHB in high concentrations in the seeds of oilseed crops or the leaves of biomass crops such as switchgrass. The PHB biomaterial is useful as a natural water treatment product and as a replacement for petroleum-based plastics. In addition, it produces a relatively abundant harvest of oil-containing seeds.
For more than a decade, Yield10 has been researching seed yield in Camelina, identifying and deploying new gene traits, evaluating the performance of these novel traits in field tests, developing PHA bioplastics in seed, and securing exclusive rights to omega-3 oils technology.
The first patent on the use of PHA in oilseed meal in animal feed was filed by our predecessor company, Metabolix, in the mid-1990s. While that patent has since expired, the chicken feeding studies described in that application demonstrated that the PHA in the feed was bioavailable as an energy source. Since then, several other reports have proven that the inclusion of microbially produced PHA at low levels can have beneficial pre-biotic effects, providing some level of protection against pathogens. In chicken feeding studies, low levels of PHA have been shown to improve feed conversion efficiency. Likewise, our current Camelina lines have produced up to 6% PHA in seed in our recent small-scale field trials.
In water treatment, the PHA biomaterial acts as a growth substrate and energy source for denitrifying bacteria, which convert nitrate, a primary cause of water pollution and algal growth, to nitrogen gas which returns to the air. This application is technically straightforward, requiring only the production and shipment of PHA biomaterials in pellet form. The continuous replenishment of the PHA pellets is a more favorable technical path to commercialization for PHA Camelina than bioplastics. This application may also serve as a market for PHA produced in the future for bioplastics applications that do not meet product specifications, or ultimately, as a way to generate value by upcycling post-consumer PHA bioplastic.
Global plastic waste is estimated at 380 million tonnes per year. The largest market for plastics today is for packaging materials, and it accounts for nearly half of all plastic waste generated globally, where most of it is never recycled or incinerated. PHA biomaterials are natural microbial high-molecular-weight polymeric storage polymers that can be recovered from the microbes which produce them and refined using standard plastics processing equipment into a range of product forms. We have recently demonstrated proof of concept for PHA bioplastics in Camelina in our 2020 field tests, providing us with the potential to link a new high-value Camelina crop with very large non-traditional markets in water treatment and plastics.
Yield10 filed a U.S. patent application in 2019 for new technology, potentially enabling low-cost production of PHA biomaterials in Camelina seeds. The patent application describes a discovery around maintaining the viability and vigor of Camelina seed programmed to produce high levels of the PHA biomaterial PHB.