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EnobraQ: A start-up resulting from TWB to capture and exploit man-made CO2

EnobraQ is developing a biological process for the capture of CO2 by yeasts so as to enable the production of chemical compounds. The design of a synthetic yeast that can use CO2 in the same way as plants or micro-algae constitutes an important breakthrough innovation with enormous industrial potential.

. © TWB, Baptiste Hamousin pour TWB

It all started in 2012 in the “Molecular Engineering and Metabolism” team of the INRA Joint Research Unit for the Engineering of Biological Systems and Processes (LISBP) in Toulouse. A project called “Carboyeast” was chosen by the newly-founded demonstrator Toulouse White Biotechnology (TWB) as being of a “pre-competitive” type(1). The project received funding of €200,000 and support from TWB for more than a year. This was able to lay the initial foundations for the construction of a yeast capable of using CO2 as a source of carbon. In 2014, support for the project was extended and three patents were filed. At the end of 2015, Sofinnova Partners, a founder member of the TWB consortium, invested €800,000 in the creation of a start-up called EnobraQ (a palindrome of carbon in French). This step marked the start of a new collaboration with TWB on a so-called “competitive” project(2). And then in April 2016, this young company achieved its first funding round worth €2.9 million, to develop its research programme. It aims to obtain advanced proof of concept between now and the end of 2017. EnobraQ is currently hosted by TWB and employs some twenty people.

A top-flight breakthrough innovation

The process developed by EnobraQ  combines two different biological processes in an S. Cerevisiae yeast:

  • one similar to that developed by plants and micro-algae to convert carbon dioxide into organic matter, thanks to an enzymatic complex called RubisCo;
  • and the second, which exists in certain bacteria, that supplies the energy necessary for the first process, either directly using electricity or from hydrogen via hydrogenase enzymes.

The first challenge is to reproduce in a eukaryote organism (a yeast) the functions that exist in prokaryote organisms, and achieve their expression in a single organism. This approach requires the design of artificial intracellular compartments so that the different processes can operate independently. The second challenge is to produce a micro-organism in which the ability to capture CO2 can be disconnected from photosynthetic activity.

Towards a new type of carbon chemistry?

The production of ethanol from CO2 may be close at hand, and this will revolutionise the classic use of “fermentable” sugars.
This work also suggests that it may be possible to produce a enormous range of useful chemical compounds to supplement ethanol and its derivatives (amino acids, organic acids, vitamins, proteins, etc.). Transposition of this technology to other micro-organisms of industrial interest will revolutionise existing processes.  The entire field of carbon chemistry will be impacted by this breakthrough innovation. The technology may enable a 30-50% reduction in the industrial production costs of ethanol. It may also contribute to reducing levels of one of the main greenhouse gases, through the capture of several million tonnes of CO2 each year.

(1) “Pre-competitive” projects are upstream research projects with considerable potential for innovation, destined to generate breakthrough technologies and the possible creation of innovative start-up companies.
(2) “Competitive” projects are established between an industrial partner and TWB. They are based on mission-based research themes that will lead to important opportunities for exploitation.

Contact(s)
Scientific contact(s):

Rapidly established contractual relations compliant with the ISO 9001 certification of the 3BCAR© Carnot Institute.

TWB forms part of the 3BCAR© Carnot Institute which therefore enables companies to gain access to a simplified and wholly compliant contractual process with the agreement of the consortium grouping all members of TWB. Thus the decision to create the start-up that would become EnobraQ was taken in early July 2015 and the contractual arrangements were finalised in early November 2015 – a relatively short period to achieve a balanced and prudent agreement in the context of creating a company and raising funds.