WARF: P160039US02

Modified Cyanobacteria for Competitive Sugar Production


Brian Pfleger, Andrew Markley

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) is seeking commercial partners interested in developing recombinant Synechococcus strains capable of higher glycogen productivity compared to the wild type.
OVERVIEWCyanobacteria are photosynthetic microorganisms capable of producing far more sugar per acre than corn, sugarcane or sugar beet. Unlike other bacteria and yeast, cyanobacteria use atmospheric CO2 as their main carbon source. Moreover, the organism lends itself well to genetic modification, requires minimal nutrition and can be cultivated in locations that do not compete with food crops.

For these reasons cyanobacteria continue to be explored as an alternative sugar source for the production of biofuel and industrial feedstocks. For example, they produce and store glycogen that can be converted to ethanol or other chemicals through known saccharification and fermentation processes.

While the cost of growing cyanobacteria is currently higher than growing corn, the advancement of new strains and techniques has the potential to compete on price.
THE INVENTIONUW–Madison researchers have developed strains of Synechococcus sp. Strain PCC 7002 with the highest reported glycogen or starch production rate of any cyanobacteria or algae. The strains are genetically modified to overexpress a glucose-1-phosphate adenylyltransferase.
BUSINESS OPPORTUNITYUsing a conservative estimate, the researchers propose that their highest performing strain is capable of producing more sugar per area than the leading terrestrial sources of sugars. For perspective, more than 120 million metric tons of sugar are produced each year globally from sugarcane or sugar beets. Forty percent of the U.S. corn crop (37 million acres of farmland) is used to make ethanol.
  • The modified strains could be freeze dried, lysed and used as a sugar source for many fermentation reactions including biofuel/biochemical production
  • Could supplant or complement the use of biomass as a sugar source
  • Some of the highest glycogen production rates ever reported
  • For the first time, cyanobacterial sugar production may compete with conventional practices.
STAGE OF DEVELOPMENTStrains have been generated and tested. The researchers’ glycogen screening method is currently being used in the lab to evaluate promoter libraries, gene knockouts/knockdowns and induction conditions in high throughput.
Contact Information
For current licensing status, please contact Jennifer Gottwald at or 608-960-9854.
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