Sheffield spin-out set to commercialise microbial engineering technology to meet global biomanufacturing needs

Engineers from the University of Sheffield are commercialising microbial engineering technology, as part of a pioneering new spin-out company to meet global biomanufacturing needs.

Evolutor PR
  • University of Sheffield spin-out company Evolutor Ltd has developed a technology platform, which aims to use advanced evolutionary techniques to improve and develop market-leading microbial cell factories in order to bring biomanufactured products to market faster and more cost effectively
  • Biomanufacturing uses microbes to manufacture products such as biofuels, biodegradable plastics, food and antibiotics
  • The global biomanufacturing market is expected to grow by 14.85 per cent to 2031
  • The vast majority of studies on biomanufacturing show reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of over 80 per cent, reductions in land use by over 80 per cent and reductions in water use by over 60 per cent* compared against traditionally-manufactured products

Nature has evolved a huge array of microorganisms capable of performing sophisticated chemistry. For thousands of years, humans have harnessed the power of microbes, such as yeasts and bacteria, to make bread, beer, wine, yoghurt and cheese.

Today, biomanufacturing utilises microbes to produce commercially important biomolecules for use in the agricultural, material, energy, food and pharmaceutical industries - including biofuels, biodegradable plastics, animal-free ‘meat’ proteins and antibiotics.

The next-generation global biomanufacturing market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 14.85 per cent during the forecast period 2021-2031 and is expected to reach a value of US $85,201.2 million in 2031.*

Evolutor is a technology platform that has been developed in the University’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering by a team of academics, technicians and students working in collaboration. The platform applies adaptive laboratory evolution (ALE) to develop more powerful microbial factories than are currently available for biomanufacturing and biofabrication.

With Evolutor’s novel platform, ALE processes are accelerated by advanced biological tools and automated by intelligent software and hardware design. Through this platform, Evolutor aims to completely unlock the power of evolution and develop a wide breadth of state-of-the-art microbes that can grow more quickly, generate higher titres of valuable product, are more robust to harsh conditions and inhibitory compounds and are able to efficiently grow on recycled and waste feedstocks instead of simple sugars.

Adaptive laboratory evolution is an evolutionary engineering approach in artificial conditions that improves organisms through the imitation of natural evolution. By automating the ALE workflow, the platform that Evolutor is developing will enable substantial time and resource savings and provide more predictable outcomes, making the use of novel microbial factories more commercially viable.

Through Innovate UK’s Innovation to Commercialisation of University Research (ICURe) programme, Evolutor has received a £240k grant to build the business. ICURe funds research teams to accelerate the time it takes to bring ideas out of the lab and to commercialisation, funding start-ups to establish their business and supporting future growth.

Joe Price, a technician in the University’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and now the CEO of Evolutor, has also been awarded the Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Fellowship to support the commercial development of Evolutor.

Joe said: “In the first year, we plan to build the technology and prove what we’ve already achieved in the University lab with some commercial partners to demonstrate the business value.

“Beyond that, the aim over the next few years is to raise significant investment, move to a bigger lab space and build the team. Initially, we are aiming to work with commercial partners who are producing novel biodegradable materials and chemicals, including maritime and aviation fuel that aren’t fossil fuel based, but derived instead from a biological source.”

Evolutor also aims to focus on enabling the large-scale manufacture of biodegradable plastics that are compatible with nature, and plans to scale into the food sector in the future. Here, meat and dairy proteins that are identical to real animal products can be produced by Evolutor’s advanced microbes instead of cows, pigs or chickens. This has great potential and sustainability benefits in terms of emissions, land use and water use.

Joe Price continued: “The science is incredible but we need to ensure that it is cost competitive with the products that currently exist and the ones we are aiming to replace.

“We believe that Evolutor can massively decrease the time-to–market of our customers’ bio-products and increase the commercial viability of large-scale precision fermentation plants. Ultimately, we want to work with biotechnology companies across the globe to change our industries and our world for the better.”

Evolutor has been developed at the University of Sheffield, by Joe Price and Chemical and Biological Engineering department academics Professor Tuck Seng Wong and Dr Kang Lan Tee, as well as Sheffield student Brooks J. Rady.