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A biotech process that might benefit sharks

By Gerald Parkinson |

Squalane, an emollient used in cosmetics, will be the first product of a biotechnology pilot plant now being started up by Nucelis Inc. (San Diego, Calif.; www.nucelis.com), a spin-off from Cibus (also of San Diego). The plant will use Cibus’ Rapid Trait Development System (RTDS), a new gene-editing technology, to enable naturally occurring yeast to increase their production of squalene, the precursor of squalane. RTDS (diagram) differs from genetically modified organisms (GMO) in that it does not involve the introduction of foreign genes into a microorganism, says Sean O’Connor, president of Nucelis. Instead, the organism’s own natural repair mechanism is triggered by the introduction of oligonucleotides, which changes the way the cells work. After doing their job, the oligonucleotides are broken down by the cells within 90 minutes. O’Connor adds that the process is “more precise than GMO.” Nucelis has focused on squalene initially because it fits in the company’s plan to make products through sustainable processes, using low-value feedstocks that are outside the food chain. At present the main sources of squalene are olive oil and sharks’ livers. Nucelis produces squalene from glycerol,…
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