ohn Cumbers and Kevin Costa report for Forbes that Berkeley-based biotech startup Checkerspot has announced a partnership with Gore — the makers of Gore-Tex — to use synthetic biology to enhance Gore’s ability to produce a new generation of high-performance materials and outdoor products.
Checkerspot has a proprietary platform that uses microalgae as a tiny biological factory for the production of oil. This past April Checkerspot raised a $13 million Series A round to develop this platform in order to produce synthetic biology-enabled performance materials.
Together, Gore and Checkerspot will explore innovative performance materials development with the goal of delivering high-performance textile coatings with improved environmental profiles.
With synthetic biology, you can start microalgae that naturally produce oil, then change the genes within the algae to create new chemical pathways within it. Using the algae as a kind of “chassis” for biological manufacturing, you can make more of what the algae naturally makes. Even better, you can make oils that nature hasn’t evolved on its own, with performance properties that improve upon nature’s designs.
From an evolutionary perspective, algae evolved to produce oil as a matter of survival. Checkerspot takes advantage of this by growing its algae in fermentation. Within days the algae accumulate large amounts of a custom-specified oil within their cells.
In other words, Checkerspot has built a high-throughput production platform that takes sugar and uses algae to turn it into high-value, customized chemicals.
In a demonstration of both the company’s love of the outdoors and the strength of its technology, Checkerspot successfully used its microalgae platform to launch the WNDR Alpine brand, and brought to market a first-of-its-kind backcountry ski made with a completely new material derived from algal oil that has better performance characteristics compared to its petroleum counterpart.
Checkerspot is currently partnering with many companies to explore how algae can make better product materials that are also better for the environment.