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CSIRO licenses technology to Amfora for production of oil in leaves and stems of plants; participates in Series A

US-based biotech startup Amfora and CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the federal government agency for scientific research in Australia) signed an agreement to advance development and commercialization of technology to produce oil in the leaves and stems of plants as well as the seeds.

Innovation Leader with CSIRO Agriculture and Food, Allan Green, said that this was the first of many applications of the technology, which can be used to produce energy-rich feed for livestock as well as for human food, biofuels and industrial uses.

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CSIRO researchers have enabled the production of oil in the leaves and stems of plants as well as the seeds—a potential game-changer in the global production of renewable oils. Starch granules are white, oil droplets green. Source: CSIRO. Click to enlarge.

Previously it has only been possible to extract oil from the oil-rich seeds and fruits of some specialized plants, such as canola, soybean, sunflower, coconut and oil palm. What we have been able to do is switch on this high-level oil production in vegetative tissue, such as in stems and leaves, as well.

—Dr. Green

In some plants, the research team has been able to get around 35% oil content into vegetative tissue—the same amount as in many oil seed crops.

If the technology were applied to existing oil crops it could potentially treble oil productivity and greatly expand renewable oil production worldwide. We are using solar energy captured by the plant to convert the leaf’s starch reserves into more energy-dense oil molecules, which significantly increases the energy value of the vegetative tissue where the oil accumulates.

—Dr. Green

Amfora will use the technology to develop oil content in the vegetative tissue of corn and sorghum, meaning they can market a feed for dairy farmers that does not require them to purchase additional oils, such as tallow or cotton seed, to supplement feeds.

Dairy cattle require around 7% fat in their diet to produce milk. If their feed already contains this fat in the form of oil then this means less agricultural land is needed to produce feed and fewer greenhouse gas emissions are produced from feed production.

The agreement with Amfora is the first major application for the high oil technology. It provides a direct path to market as the oil does not need to be extracted from the leaves before it is fed to cattle.

Future applications, such as the production of industrial oils and bio-based diesel,

will require further industrial supply chain development to customise techniques for extracting the oil and converting it to suitable products.

CSIRO granted Amfora a worldwide, exclusive license to its technology for use in the development of specified forage crops. CSIRO also participated in Amfora’s Series A financing along with Spruce Capital Partners, a venture capital firm based in San Francisco, California and co-manager of the MLS Fund II.

Resources

  • Reynolds, Kyle; Taylor, Matthew; Zhou, Xue-Rong; Vanhercke, Thomas; Wood, Craig; Blanchard, Christopher; Singh, Surinder; Petrie, James (2015) “Metabolic engineering of medium-chain fatty acid biosynthesis in Nicotiana benthamiana plant leaf lipids” Frontiers in Plant Science doi: 10.3389/fpls.2015.00164

  • Allan Green, “Biomass Oils: Game-changing new technology for biofuels and bioproducts ” (presentation)

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