A team of researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno have strayed from the lab to the boardroom in an effort to build a business based on discoveries from years of research studying insect enzymes.
The enzymes, discovered in bark beetles from trees in the Lake Tahoe area, have the potential to be used for a wide range of products such as bug traps and pesticides, perfumes, flavorings, cleaning products or even with drugs for chemotherapy and bacterial infection.
After a roller-coaster ride of possibilities and contacting companies in a number of industries, the team settled on the pesticide and insect attractant application as the starting place for the business venture. Plans are underway to put the technological processes into mass production with the launch of a specialized chemical production company, EscaZyme Biochemicals.
EscaZyme’s biotechnological approach to synthesizing value-added compounds is estimated to be more economical than current methods and, therefore, will be of commercial interest. The process has been 12 years in the works through work by a professor of biochemistry and more recently a post-doctoral researcher in the University of Nevada Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources.
The work of Claus Tittiger, professor of biochemistry, and post-doctoral researcher Rubi Figueroa-Teran was accepted into a highly competitive and intense National Science Foundation business-validation program, known as Innovation Corps or I-Corps. Three months later and with the support of the University’s Technology Transfer Office programs, they have created a business and are bringing to market a product based on their enzymes.
The two-person team has expanded, getting a CEO on board, Jennifer Ott, who has a chemistry degree and is completing her MBA at the University this year. EscaZyme Biochemicals’ first potential client is a chemical company that produces traps and lures for bark beetles, a tiny insect that can decimate a forest in just a few years.
“Our customers are governments, ranchers, timber companies, ski resorts, anyone who is interested in forest health and management,” Ott said. “The company we visited is interested because our process produces very easily the compounds they need; a process that is usually time consuming and can be hazardous.”
“When I started research on the bark beetle, starting a business was the furthest thing from my mind,” said Tittiger. “It’s great to be able to take the research to the next level, to make this technology available to industry where it can do some good.”