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The production of enzymes for industrial applications from fungi and bacteria is a growth market. Dutch DNA Biotech is setting out to conquer its own niche in that market by combining various technologies with high-level expertise. The brand-new company will enter into new partnerships in order to make further use of the accumulated intellectual property portfolio within the market and to create new value.
Prof. Peter Punt began at TNO when molecular technology was still an emerging sector. The 1980s were a decade of breakthroughs in the genetic modification of fungi for the production of enzymes. “I always loved performing fundamental research the most, focusing on application,” says Punt, today a renowned professor in an international field. “Research that leads to sometimes unexpected application possibilities still makes me happy.” Later this year, ten specialists will continue their work as an independent private limited company, with TNO as one of the shareholders.
“Enzymes are used in the food industry as well as in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries,” explains commercial director Cornelis Mijnders. “For instance, they are used in washing detergents. One of Dutch DNA Biotech's roles will be that of a technology provider for companies producing enzymes using fungi. Clients come to us with the genetic code of an enzyme and ask if we can incorporate it into a fungus in order to produce a commercial production quantity. In the first instance, this requires ‘traditional’ laboratory work. Analysts work on the fungi using highly-refined methods. Creativity and mental power are also required: the modification and cultivation of fungi is a kind of highly-complex mathematics.”
Dutch DNA Biotech will work for new and existing clients all over the world. The private limited company will become an outsourcing partner for parties lacking specific equipment and knowledge. Punt continues: “Dutch DNA Biotech has extensive fermentation equipment and a molecular lab – a rare combination. Another of our drivers is the aspect of sustainability. Industrial fungal biotechnology can make a very important contribution to the biobased economy, if companies use enzymes to produce chemical products and biofuels from second-generation materials.”
The field of the development of enzymes is a complex world of patents and company secrets. Punt continues: “Intellectual property within the international arena is something that we know a lot about. Europe, for instance, has strict regulations relating to genetically-modified organisms. In the USA, the patent on DNA is a hot topic of debate: Is it possible? Is it permissible? Navigating through that kind of maze is fascinating.” On top of all the scientific and geopolitical challenges, the former TNO employees will have to get used to being entrepreneurs. Mijnders explains: “As salaried employees, everything was taken care of for us. Now we even have to order our own pens! We are discovering in a very different way what a professional organization TNO is.”
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