Protein pattern: This computer rendering shows ripples on fabric made from protein. Such fabrics could be used as scaffolds for growing organs.   

Credit: ACS/ Nano Letters

A strong, stretchy material could provide a scaffold for growing organs or making wounds heal faster.

  

 

MIT Technology Review, August 9, 2010, by Nidhi Subbaraman  —  A stretchy new fabric made by linking together the proteins found in muscle tissue could provide a scaffold for growing new organs. It could also be used as a coating for bandages to help wounds heal quickly and with less scarring. The fabric was made in the laboratory of Kevin Kit Parker, a professor at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.

When the body grows new tissue, cells secrete fibronectin–a strong, stretchy type of protein that acts as a supportive scaffold. The shape and structure that fibronectin adopts directs the subsequent growth of new cells, giving the resulting tissue the correct form.

Parker’s team creates the fabric by depositing fibronectin molecules on top of a water-repelling polymer surface. This causes the proteins, which are normally bundled up, to unravel. Next, the protein layer is stamped onto a dissolvable, water-attracting polymer sheet on top of a piece of glass. Adding water and warming the mixture to room temperature makes the proteins link together to form the fabric. It also dissolves the polymer so that the fabric can be peeled away and collected.

The team made swatches of material 10 nanometers thick and about 2.5 centimeters wide. The researchers can control the architecture and mechanical characteristics of the fabric by using different proteins, or changing the way they are aligned.

Different research groups are developing ways to grow replacement tissue in the lab, but a big challenge is providing the right direction for the growth of new cells. Researchers have previously made cellular scaffolds by flushing the living cells from harvested livers and hearts, and by creating cellular skeletons made from polymers.

By building the new scaffold from the protein up, Parker’s team can program direction cues into the architecture of the scaffold, and thus direct the growth of cells in the desired direction. Using natural proteins rather than synthetic polymers or decellularized organs reduces the likelihood that the new tissue will be rejected once it’s implanted.

In one experiment, the research team grew heart muscle cells on top of a piece of finished fabric. The fabric caused the muscle cells to link together to form a tissue that “beat,” when stimulated electrically, for one week.

“It’s a very clever approach,” says Juan Hinestroza, assistant professor and director of the Textiles Nanotechnology Laboratory at Cornell University. “The control of the architecture of the scaffold is really, really novel. And the scalability– you can use it to make bigger patterns.”

Other than building three-dimensional scaffolds for organ reconstruction, the new fabric could be embedded in bandages, accelerating wound healing and minimizing scar formation.

The material could also find other novel uses. An appealing feature is its unusual elasticity. The fibronectin protein, which forms the base thread of the fabric, is part of the molecular machinery that allows muscles to contract and relax.

“[Fibronectin] is compressed like a spring when you’re contracting your muscle, and when you relax, it pushes it back,” says Parker. This structure gives the fabric its elasticity, and allows it to be stretched up to 18 times its original length. “When you pull on the fabric, you unfold the proteins,” providing additional strength, says Parker.

Parker’s team is exploring the mechanical properties of the new fabric, examining its strength and stretchiness. The new stamping method could let them make larger, more complex fabrics. “The base technology is down,” says Parker. “Now we need to facilitate the spinout applications.”

The headquarters of GlaxoSmithKline Plc in Brentford,

Middlesex, U.K. Source: GlaxoSmithKline Plc via Bloomberg

Bloomberg.com, August 9, 2010, by Ellen Gibson  —   GlaxoSmithKline Plc, the U.K.’s biggest drugmaker, said it has come up with an antibiotic designed to circumvent the drug resistance that makes many hospital-acquired infections difficult to treat.

The drug works by blocking an old target, an enzyme that enables bacteria to reproduce, in a new way, according to the paper published in the journal Nature. Medicines such as Bayer AG’s Cipro, called quinolones, have been used to control the enzyme since 1962. Now bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to that class of drugs, the report said.

Glaxo’s finding, still years from being commercialized, is significant at a time few pharmaceutical companies are producing new medicines to combat rising rates of drug-resistant infections in hospitals. Just three antibiotics have been cleared for sale by U.S. regulators in the past five years, according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

“The bugs are getting worse and the drugs are not anywhere near keeping up,” said Helen Boucher, a staff physician at Tufts Medical Center in Boston who directs a fellowship program in infectious diseases. “We saw the exodus of Big Pharma and now we’re seeing biotech getting out because their investors feel the risk is too high.”

Companies are leery of spending hundreds of millions of dollars to develop antibiotics, products typically prescribed for fewer than 10 days, because there is no way to guarantee a reasonable return, said Brad Spellberg, associate professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.

More Inventive

Glaxo’s new compound latches onto topoisomerase, which helps bacteria produce proteins and replicate. It connects at a different location on the enzyme from existing drugs, the researchers confirmed using a form of imaging technology known as x-ray crystallography.

“We already knew that targeting this enzyme was clinically proven to stop bacteria in their tracks, we just needed to be a bit more inventive in how we attacked it,” Michael Gwynn, a researcher for London-based Glaxo, said in the statement.

The compound, called GSK-299423, works against antibiotic- resistant bugs including strains of Staphylococcus aureus and gram-negative microbes such as E. coli, the statement said. While future sales for an early-stage molecule are difficult to predict, two of the top-selling branded antibiotics, New York- based Pfizer Inc.’s Zyvox and Cubicin, from Lexington, Massachusetts-based Cubist Pharmaceuticals Inc., generated $1.1 billion and $538 million in sales last year, respectively.

One in 20 people entering a U.S. hospital ends up with an infection, said Deverick Anderson, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. Staph infections alone now kill more people than AIDS in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

When Anderson spent a year tracking contagions at 28 hospitals in the U.S. southeast, he found that infected patients spend on average 23 extra days as in-patients, generating $60,000 in added expenses. About 2 million drug-resistant infections in the U.S. each year cost the health system up to $34 billion, according to the Arlington, Virginia-based Infectious Disease Society.

Financial Toll

Laura Mastrogiovanni, a New York City middle-school principal, knows the financial toll. Last fall her doctor diagnosed a creeping pain in her hip as arthritis, but the Celebrex and cortisone shots he prescribed didn’t help.

It turned out the otherwise healthy 52-year-old had severe joint degeneration caused by an advanced staph infection. Specialists at New York University Langone Medical Center eventually cleared it with a combination of potent, stomach- churning antibiotics, but the damage was already done. She needed a complete hip replacement.

Mastrogiovanni has been out of work since December, and her illness has cost her about $30,000 in supplemental income from a part-time teaching job at Hunter College. Out-of-pocket expenses for items such as home nursing and co-payments tallied to $2,500, requiring her to take out a loan.

In one sense, Mastrogiovanni was lucky: Her infection responded to vancomycin, which only works on some strains.

“What’s amazing about staph is that it’s learned to become resistant to every antibiotic we’ve cooked up,” said Robert Daum, director of a research program on drug-resistant staph at the University of Chicago Medical Center. That creates a need for a steady stream of effective new treatments, he said.

Dwindling Arsenal

Instead, the arsenal doctors can use to fight infections has dwindled, according to the Infectious Disease Society. From 1983 to 1987, 16 antibiotics were approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. In the five-year period ending in 2009, there were just three: Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Inc.’s Tygacil in 2005, Johnson & Johnson’s Doribax in 2007, and Astellas Pharma Inc.’s telavancin last year.

The next antibacterial likely to go before U.S. regulators, ceftaroline, from New York-based Forest Laboratories Inc. and London-based AstraZeneca Plc, belongs to a class of drugs known as cephalosporins that use a mechanism pioneered in the 1960s.

“There is a lot to be said for small improvements over time,” said Aaron Gal, a Sanford C Bernstein & Co. analyst in New York. The main risk to approval is the FDA’s changing guidelines on antibiotic trials, he said.

Big Pharma

Major drug companies led by New York-based Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., Abbott Labs of Abbott Park, Illinois, and Roche Holding AG, based in Basel, Switzerland, said they have no antibiotics in testing. Eli Lilly & Co., the pioneer behind vancomycin, Keflex, and several top-sellers, changed its research focus after bringing its last antibiotic to market in 1991, said Christine Drury Van Marter, a spokeswoman for the Indianapolis-based drugmaker.

While Novartis AG has kept the vestiges of an antibiotics research team in place, it faces an uphill struggle. “There is a current argument against doing R&D in this space, and it’s something I have to deal with,” said Steve Projan, global head of infectious disease research for the Basel, Switzerland-based company.

For one thing, the older drugs are cheap and familiar, so it takes a long time to increase sales of new drugs, Projan said.

“It’s not like an iPhone,” he said. “If someone has been using a drug like doxycycline since 1967, there is a comfort margin. He knows how patients will respond.”

‘Wasting Asset’

Barry Eisenstein, senior vice president of scientific affairs at Cubist, refers to each antibiotic as a “wasting asset,” meaning that it is profitable and effective only for a limited time as microbes evolve and develop resistance.

Last year Cubist derived 96 percent of its revenue from the antibiotic Cubicin. Now the company is trying to diversify, Eisenstein said.

Cubicin and several drugs today work against a pernicious bug known as methicillin-resistant staph aureus, or MRSA. The bigger threat may come from a class of bugs known as gram- negative bacteria, said Kevin Judice, chief executive officer of South San Francisco-based Achaogen Inc., which is developing weapons against them.

Gram-negative microbes such as acinetobacter and klebsiella are infiltrating U.S. hospitals and some strains are proving nearly impossible to treat. Before 2000, less than 6 percent of acinetobacters were resistant to commonly used antimicrobials, according to the CDC. The most recent rate, published in 2008, was 34 percent.

“Those organisms are the harbingers of tomorrow’s pan- resistant infections,” said Spellberg.

Until Achaogen or Glaxo can deliver a new medicine, doctors will fall back on Colistin, a 50-year-old drug known to cause kidney damage.

If these bugs ever defeat Colistin, “you’re back to the era when there were no drugs, a position we haven’t been in as a society in a long time,” Judice said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Ellen Gibson in New York at egibson9@bloomberg.net;

FORBES.com, August 9, 2010  –  CHICAGO — The government is advising doctors and patients about problems with implanted medical filters designed to trap deadly blood clots.

The Food and Drug Administration’s advisory Monday says these filters can move or break, especially when they’re left in too long. The FDA has received more than 900 reports about problems with the filters since 2005.

The advisory coincides with the release of a study about life-threatening problems in patients at a Pennsylvania hospital.

About 30,000 filters are implanted each year.

The filters are inserted inside a large abdominal vein, and have spidery metal legs to stop blot clots from traveling to the lungs.

The FDA says doctors should consider removing the filters if patients’ clot risks subside.

The foods you really need to stay healthy and strong

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

WebMD.com, August 9, 2010, by Colette Bouchez — From the food pyramid to the Internet to your local bookstore, there is certainly no shortage of advice on nutrition and healthy eating. But with all the media hype surrounding many “health foods,” it can be hard for a woman to tell the nutrients from advertising ploys.

“We are sometimes led to believe that a specific food is healthier than it really is,” says nutritionist Elizabeth Somer, MS, RD, author of Age-proof Your Body. “Or that you need some exotic or expensive form of certain nutrients to gain benefits — and most of the time that’s not true.”

Moreover — as happened in the ’90s when low fat cookies made everyone temporarily forget about calories — Somer says some of today’s advertising sways us toward one healthy aspect of a food to keep us from noticing other, less healthy attributes. “A product may advertise itself as ‘no cholesterol’” she says, “but it still can be loaded with bad fats or tons of calories. You have to look at the total food to know for sure.”

NYU nutritionist Tara Miller, MS, RD, agrees. “You have to read the whole label, look at all the ingredients and the portion sizes, before you know for sure just how healthy a food is.”

Or you can let us do the work for you! To help you zero in on the healthiest foods that women can eat, we asked a panel of experts for their advice.

What follows is a description of the six super foods they say every woman needs. While these foods won’t cover all your nutrient bases, incorporating them into your diet as often as possible can help give you a wide range of protection.

Super Food # 1: Low-fat yogurt

Goal: 3 to 5 servings a week

What it does: As a health food, yogurt is almost as old as, well, good health itself. But experts say evidence continues to accumulate that reveals its benefits in many new and exciting ways. And not just yogurt. Somer tells WebMD that any fermented dairy product — including kefir — contains healthy “probiotics” — bacteria with the power to protect you in myriad ways.

“There is a suggestion [that yogurt] may decrease the risk of breast cancer,” Somer says. ”And there’s very strong evidence it can reduce problems associated with irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory digestive tract disorders — both conditions that impact women more than men.” Additionally, she says, yogurt can help reduce the risk of stomach ulcers and vaginal infections.

Enjoy a cup of yogurt at breakfast, lunch, or snack to help meet the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommendation for three servings of low fat dairy each day. “It’s loaded with bone-healthy calcium — something every woman needs more of at every age,” Somer says. One cup of yogurt has about 448 mg of calcium, compared to just 300 for eight ounces of skim milk.

The key, according to Somer, is to choose a low fat yogurt with live cultures — like Lactobacillus acidophilus. And do check the label, Somer advises. Some store brands may not have the level of cultures found in more established brands.

Also important: Skip the fruit-on-the-bottom or other flavored varieties. “Too much sugar,” says Somer, who also reminds us that, no, those two blueberries on the bottom of the container do not constitute a serving of fruit!

Super Food # 2: Fatty fish — like salmon, sardines, and mackerel

Goal: 2 to 3 servings every week

Eat more sardines

What it does: The healthy factor in fish is omega-3 fatty acids, and specifically two types known as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).

“Fatty fish not only plays a vital role in the health of the membrane of every cell in our body, it also helps protect us from a number of key health threats,” says Laurie Tansman, MS, RD, CDN, a nutritionist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.

Some of those threats include heart disease, stroke, hypertension, depression, joint pain, and a number of illnesses linked to inflammation, including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Somer says fish may even offer some protection against Alzheimer’s disease.

While many foods — such as walnuts, flaxseed oil, and some mayonnaise brands — claim the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, Somer cautions that only the DHA or EPA forms of omega-3 can be directly used by the body.

“What you get in foods like walnuts and flaxseed oil is an omega-3 acid known as ALA — alpha-linoleic acid,” says Somer. “And while it’s certainly good for you, it requires a process in the body to convert it to DHA. And that conversion process can be influenced by a variety of individual factors.”

The good news: You are likely to see a wheelbarrow full of new products supplemented with DHA slowly making their way to market in the coming year. Currently, Kellogg is reportedly developing a cereal fortified with DHA, while a company called Nutri-Kids has already launched a DHA fortified ready-to-drink milk product. You can also find eggs fortified with DHA and, says Somer, certain brands of soymilk.

Super Food # 3: Beans

Goal: 3 to 4 servings every week

What it does: Low in fat, beans are a good source of protein and fiber and may have protective effects against heart disease and breast cancer. Beans may also play a role in stabilizing female hormones, says nutritionist Susan Krause, MS, RD.

“Beans have been around so long that most people don’t view them as a fancy new health food,” Krause says. “But in fact, they are among one of the healthiest things a woman can eat.”

In studies published in the International Journal of Cancer, researchers found that beans in general, and lentils in particular, may have some protective effects against breast cancer. In research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, doctors found a relationship between a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and a higher intake of legumes. Well known legumes include peas, beans, lentils, and peanuts.

As a source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, Krause says, beans can help lower cholesterol, while their level of a nutrient known as isoflavone can help in the regulation of hormones and may aid with PMS, perimenopause, or menopause symptoms. Although soybeans have among the highest levels of isoflavones, other sources include red clover, kudzu, mung beans, alfalfa sprouts, black cohosh, and chickpeas.

“Beans also contain something called protease inhibitors, which may help protect against breast cancer,” says Krause. Protease inhibitors help slow the division of cancer cells and in this way may prevent tumor formation.

Last but not least, if you are in your reproductive years, beans can give you a steady supply of folic acid — essential if you should become pregnant.

Super Food # 4: Tomatoes (or watermelon, red grapefruit, red navel oranges)

Goal: 3 to 5 servings each week

What it does: The powerhouse nutrient in all these fruits is lycopene. And, according to Miller, while the headlines touted its protective effects against prostate cancer, more quiet research has shown it has tremendous health benefits for women as well.

“Research is starting to show that lycopene may protect against breast cancer,” Miller says. “And it’s also a powerful antioxidant that can help a woman fight heart disease.”

The very latest research shows it may also help keep you looking younger longer by protecting against UV damage from the sun.

Super Food # 5: Vitamin D fortified low fat milk or orange juice

Goal: At least 400 IUs of vitamin D daily

What it does: “Essential to helping the bones absorb calcium from the gut,” says Somer, “vitamin D helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis and may be vital in reducing the risk of diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and tumors of the breast, colon, and ovary.”

Indeed, recent studies from the University of California San Diego suggest that vitamin D has the potential to prevent up to one–half of all breast, colon, and ovarian cancer in the United States.

Somer tells WebMD that a growing body of research indicates many women may be vitamin D deficient. “A combination of staying out of the sun (which the body uses to manufacture vitamin D) and using sunscreen, which blocks the synthesis of vitamin D, has resulted in many women hitting a dangerously low level of this nutrient,” says Somer.

While Vitamin D is found in salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines, experts say fortified foods, such as milk, are the best source.

Super Food # 6: Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, cranberries)

Goal: 3 to 4 servings every week

Blueberry Hill – Picking Wild Blueberries in Maine

What It Does: In a way similar to wine, these fruits may protect your body with powerful anti-cancer nutrients known as anthocyans, which are believed to play a role in cell repair. Krause says research shows anthocyans may decrease the risk of several cancers, including those in the breast and gastrointestinal tract.

“These berries,” says Krause, “are also high in vitamin C and folic acid, which is essential for all women in their childbearing years. And they offer powerful anti-oxidant protection, which not only protects the heart but also may protect against skin aging, from the inside out.” Moreover, she tells WebMD that cranberries may help reduce the risk of urinary tract infections in women, while the nutrient, lutein found in all the berries, can help protect vision.

Source: FORBES.COM

 

DENVER, Aug. 9 /PRNewswire/ — Atkins(TM) Nutritionals, Inc. (“Atkins”) applauds the study conducted by Temple University‘s Center for Obesity Research and Education, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in the August 3, 2010, issue of Annals of Internal Medicine. The study concludes that a low-carbohydrate diet is associated with favorable changes in weight loss and cardiovascular disease risk factors. The Temple University researchers used the 2002 version of the Atkins Diet(TM) described in “Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution” as the model for the low-carbohydrate diet used in the study.

“We are very excited about this study, which is the latest of many that demonstrate the positive effects of the Atkins Diet,” said Monty Sharma, CEO of Atkins Nutritionals. “I’m confident that the results would have been even more profound had the study participants followed the latest version of the Atkins Diet introduced in ‘The New Atkins for a New You.'”

“The New Atkins for a New You” was published in March 2010 (Fireside) and authored by Dr. Eric C. Westman (Duke University), Dr. Stephen D. Phinney (University of California at Davis) and Dr. Jeff S. Volek (University of Connecticut). The book spent 18 weeks on The New York Times Best Sellers List (paperback/advice) after its debut.

The two-year, federally funded Temple University study focused on 307 adults, of whom two-thirds were women. Half of the participants followed the Induction phase of the Atkins Diet for three months before increasing their carbohydrate intake by five grams a week until they reached a stable weight. The other participants followed a low-fat diet, consisting of 1,200-1,800 daily calories of which less than 30 percent was fat.

Results showed that while both the low-fat and low-carb diets promote successful weight loss, the Atkins Diet increased the body’s levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol by 23 percent — nearly twice as much as a low-fat diet, which increased HDL levels by only 12 percent. Many other studies of up to one year’s duration have reported similar beneficial results, but this is the second two-year study.

“The New Atkins for a New You” provides a detailed roadmap for moving through the four phases of the diet, enabling followers to find their individual tolerance for carbohydrates, a concept that was introduced in this book for the first time and was not available to Temple University at the time of the study.

“Had participants in the Temple University study known how to find their own carbohydrate threshold — instead of continuing to add carbohydrates until weight loss ceased — they would have almost certainly lost more weight and shown even higher HDL cholesterol levels,” said Dr. Eric C. Westman, a coauthor of “The New Atkins for a New You.”

“The New Atkins for a New You” details how science has transformed the Atkins Diet into an established, medically validated, safe and effective treatment. The book also promotes the consumption of a wide variety of whole foods, including multiple protein sources, as well as vegetables, low glycemic fruits and — as one approaches one’s goal weight — whole grains. The adequate levels of protein, fat and fiber in these foods keeps dieters satiated longer, but eliminates the simple sugars and quickly digested carbohydrates that spike blood sugar, and therefore hunger and cravings.

About Atkins Nutritionals, Inc.

Atkins Nutritionals, Inc., is a leading player in the $2.4 billion dollar weight control nutrition category, and offers a powerful lifetime approach to weight loss and weight management. The Atkins Nutritional Approach focuses on a healthy diet with reduced levels of refined carbohydrates and added sugars and encourages the consumption of protein, fiber, fruits, vegetables and good fats. Backed by research and consumer success stories, this approach allows the body to burn more fat and work more efficiently while helping individuals feel less hungry, more satisfied and more energetic.

Atkins Nutritionals, Inc., manufactures and sells a variety of nutrition bars, foods and shakes designed around the nutritional principles of the Atkins Diet(TM). Atkins’ four product lines: Advantage(R), Day Break(TM), Endulge(TM) and Cuisine(TM) appeal to a broad audience of both men and women who want to achieve their weight management goals and enjoy a healthier lifestyle. Atkins products are available in more than 30,000 locations throughout the U.S. and internationally. For more information, visit atkins.com.

CONTACT: Andrea Davidoff RF|Binder for Atkins (212) 994-7617 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              (212) 994-7617      end_of_the_skype_highlighting Atkins@rfbinder.com

Hydrocarbon hotshot: Peter Meinhold is director of research at Gevo, a company that can turn plant stalks and wood chips into a high-energy hydrocarbon found in gasoline and jet fuel.   Credit: Gevo

 

A way to get a high-energy fuel out of an abundant and renewable resource.

 

 

MIT Technology Review, August 9, 2010, by Nidhi Subbaraman  —  Researchers at a startup in Colorado have turned plant scraps into jet fuel, an important demonstration that high-energy fuels can be made efficiently from renewable and abundant biomass.

The company, Gevo, has engineered a yeast that helps transform the cellulose found in wood chips and plant stalks into butanol, an ingredient of gasoline. The researchers can then modify the butanol into jet fuel.

Butanol has 30 percent more energy than an equal amount of a conventional biofuel such as ethanol. Because of that appeal, such companies as Cobalt Biofuels, Gevo, and DuPont have been developing ways to cheaply and efficiently produce butanol from renewable sources. One method starts with the sugars in the starch of corn and sugarcane. Another way to do it is with the cellulose found in plant stalks and wood chips. It has been easier to design yeasts and bacteria to ferment starch-based sugars into butanol, but the abundance of natural cellulose makes it a better raw material for biofuel production, says Mike Cleary, director of the National Bioenergy Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

“Cellulose is the biggest source of sugars on the planet,” Cleary says. The difficulty is, it’s harder to get at that cellulose and get at those sugars than it is to get the sugars from corn kernels.”

To make a biofuel, bacteria or yeast digest plant starch into sugars, which are then fermented. In 2005, when Gevo launched, it announced that it had created a highly efficient method of converting corn-based sugars into butanol by rewiring the enzyme pathways in yeast. Now the researchers have inserted their butanol fermentation pathway into a yeast that has been customized to go to work on a mixed sugar slurry formed from cellulose in plant stalks.

Because it packs more energy than first-generation biofuels like ethanol, butanol burns more efficiently–in other words, it could deliver more miles per gallon. Another advantage: while ethanol can be blended into gasoline in limited amounts, there is no corresponding limit for butanol, as it is already a key part of gasoline. The molecular structure of butanol allows it to be readily converted into chemical products that refineries make from petroleum fuels. And butanol could be easier to use and transport than ethanol–it does not absorb water like ethanol does, making it easier to carry in pipelines.

“We wanted to fundamentally change the way biofuels were made and the sort of biofuels we could make,” says Peter Meinhold, cofounder and director of research at Gevo. “We wanted to develop a drop-in biofuel–something that you could use directly without having to change the gasoline supply and the gasoline infrastructure.”

Gevo has also developed a unique separation technology to increase the efficiency of its production process, which makes a variant of butanol known as isobutanol. It’s a challenge to extract the biofuel from the fermentation slurry of sugars and microbes before it is toxic to the organisms. Gevo’s technology quickly collects the isobutanol as it is produced, enabling it to be made in large quantities.

But Gevo’s technology has yet to be demonstrated at commercial scale. That means it remains to be seen whether Gevo’s product can make it into the market at a cost that is competitive with ethanol and gasoline.

Founded by Caltech professor Frances Arnold, Meinhold, and others, Gevo is supported by such investors as Khosla Ventures. While commercializing its technology, Gevo will have to compete with such companies as LS9, which is developing a way to produce diesel from cellulose in a single-step process. Also, DuPont and BP have partnered to develop their own organisms to produce butanol from various sugar sources.