GlobalYeast solves big sustainability challenges with microorganisms

18 September 2018
​With the consequences of climate change already affecting food and energy availability in some of the world’s most vulnerable areas, innovative responses to sustainability challenges are needed now more than ever. Belgian-Brazilian biotech firm GlobalYeast, a VIB-KU Leuven start-up, seeks to fight the effects of climate change with its biofuel-producing microorganisms – created with the help of precision-breeding techniques. These novel yeast strains will be very useful in supporting the circular economy. Brazil’s National Technical Commission of Biosafety (CTNBio) has already confirmed that these organisms are considered non-GMO yeasts.

Advanced biotech: supporting next-gen bioethanol
The traditional method of extracting bioethanol from plants is mainly based on consolidated yeast biotechnology. For example, ethanol from sugarcane, the world’s second-largest source, is produced using conventional yeasts, which were not developed to address today’s and future challenges. By contrast, advanced biotech yeasts are designed to overcome existing boundaries of current technology. These include conversion and yield, generation of by-products and tolerance to stress factors, among others.
“We develop microorganisms that produce ethanol in a more sustainable way as per the stipulations of the Paris Agreement, with the ultimate goal of reducing carbon emissions,” explains GlobalYeast CEO Marcelo do Amaral. “We constantly seek to create ever more efficient yeasts, capable of generating more bioethanol using the same quantities of inputs.”

In doing so, GlobalYeast relies on the use of new precision-breeding techniques, which enable them to rapidly and meticulously introduce desirable genetic changes to their yeasts that also occur in nature. These precise techniques offer key benefits over traditional breeding methods, which are slower, less controlled and may result in unanticipated genetic changes.

New opportunities in a growing global market
The sustainable advantages of GlobalYeast’s innovations have not gone unnoticed by Brazil’s environmental policymakers and biofuel stakeholders. Improved biofuel generation is one of the key goals of Brazil’s RenovaBio regulation, which was recently introduced as a result of the nation’s commitment to the 2015 Paris Accord. GlobalYeast is the first to receive a decision from CTNbio regarding the classification of its yeasts as non-GMO organisms – underlining their safety and overcoming expensive and time-consuming regulatory hurdles that could limit crucial technological progress.

“As a result of the commission’s scientifically supported decision, GlobalYeast can help drive the transition to the circular economy without being hampered by rules that don’t apply to this technology,” Dr. do Amaral continues. “We apply precision-breeding techniques to our yeasts with the utmost care and commitment to safety, as validated by CTNBio.”

Even more, the decision offers a new route for GlobalYeast to improve its technology with the aim of bringing better solutions to a growing market. “Most market players today make limited use of advanced biotechnology in yeast development. We have the advantage of being one of the first movers, playing a relevant role in the global market from our labs in Leuven,” Dr. do Amaral concludes.