Codexis scales up tailored enzyme production

By Kris Bevill | July 13, 2011

Biocatalyst development firm Codexis Inc. says it has begun the scale-up manufacturing of a prototype cellulase enzyme used to produce cellulosic biofuels and biochemicals at a fermentation and synthesis facility in Mexico. Enzyme production has been successfully completed at the 20,000-liter scale (approximately 5,000 gallons), according to the company, and represents the first manufacture of an enzyme product using Codexis’ trademarked CodeXporter enzyme expression system.

“High-performance cellulase enzymes will soon be in high demand for cost-effective production of renewable products from biomass,” Codexis President and CEO Alan Shaw said. “This is both an important commercial milestone for Codexis and a significant development for customers, who are responding to market demand for sustainable products.”

Codexis produces tailored enzymes using another trademarked technology platform dubbed the CodeEvolver, which combines DNA shuffling and proprietary bioinformatics with advanced systems biology to create new biocatalysts that the company says are superior to other natural enzymes. This “directed evolution” method is based on the concept that genetic mutation and selection can be used to hone in on specific improvements in the function of various protein pathways, according to the company. The CodeXporter is a key component of the technology platform because it enables the enzymes to be produced at commercial scale, according to the company’s website.

Enzymes produced using Codexis’ technology will be used to convert non-food biomass to fermentable sugars, according to the company. Codexis officials declined to comment on the specific types of feedstocks that have been tested, however. The company also declined to provide any details regarding the cost of production for the enzymes.

In June, Royal Dutch Shell plc transferred 5.6 million shares of its Codexis stock to a newly formed Brazilian joint venture with Cosan Ltd. called Raizen Energia Participacoes S.A., making it Codexis’ largest shareholder. Raizen boasts an annual production capacity of more than 2 billion liters (approximately 500 million gallons) of sugarcane-based ethanol.