Growing algae synthetically
Provectus Algae is a biomanufacturing and synthetic biology company that produces photosynthetic microalgae for commercial applications. These single-cell algae grow by absorbing light and consuming carbon dioxide to produce biomass that includes high-value materials and ingredients.
The business identified that algae have great potential to provide many inputs across a variety of industries. This includes food and beverage (natural and sustainable food flavourings, fragrances and colourings), cosmetics (UV-blockers, antioxidants, moisturizers, and beyond), agriculture (next generation of crop protection and feed supplements), and therapeutics (such as medicines).
Provectus Algae was looking for technical research expertise to help create and validate a chloroplast expression system to reliably and efficiently engineer algae as a host to produce a range of specialty molecules. A chloroplast expression system is a genetic construct that enables specific genes of interest to be expressed within chloroplasts of microalgae.
In doing so, this would enable the use of photosynthetic algae as a biomanufacturing platform, producing specialty ingredients at commercial scale.
Finding ways to grow at a commercial scale
Founder Nusqe Spanton chose to work with the University of the Sunshine Coast Genecology Research Centre (now Centre for Bioinnovation) to develop and validate two new chloroplast expression systems that could be used for commercial applications including the large scale, rapid manufacture of genetically designed algae. CSIRO SME Connect Facilitator Anna Daniel worked with them to scope the project and negotiated with the University to progress it to the starting line.
Following the success in developing a multi-expressing system, the company then needed to further refine and optimise the system to meet their requirements for commercial feasibility.
Developing new commercial process and algae products
Through this collaborative research project, Provectus Algae was able to create a protocol to design and produce peptides and proteins in commercial quantities, thanks to the newly developed chloroplast expression system. They also developed two new algae products and through that, created intellectual property assets.
The project has enabled the business to access new markets and attract venture capital. It has four commercial products scheduled to come to market in 2023 and grown from 22 to 48 staff, increased its R&D team, and aims to expand to the US.
Project Supervisor Professor Abigail Elizur was invited to join Provectus Algae as a Scientific Advisor, and the project Researcher Tomer Abramov later joined as a Research Scientist, to further strengthen the ongoing collaboration with the University of the Sunshine Coast.
As a small business, the project with the University of the Sunshine Coast enabled us to get some good commercial outcomes grounded on solid research, with a university partner that really understood the needs of our business. Being able to leverage USC’s research expertise and analytics equipment, allowed us to validate what we were trying to do much more quickly, while also lowering some of the R&D risks. This gave us the confidence to continue investing in the business and provide the proof points required to raise future capital.
— Provectus Algae Co-Founder Nusque Spanton
[The project] funding enabled us to form a close relationship with Provectus Algae, giving us an opportunity to work on real life questions with immediate commercial relevance, and teaching us how a start-up biotech company operates. On the other hand it gave Provectus Algae the opportunity to work with academics who are experts in their field and carried out sound research that can be trusted. The relationship has since grown and additional contracts between the company and the University of the Sunshine Coast were signed. I expect our collaboration to keep growing over the coming years.
— Project Supervisor Professor Abigail Elizur, University of the Sunshine Coast