Athena Biotechnologies wins SBIR grant

By Susanne Retka Schill | May 09, 2008
Web exclusive posted May 30, 2008 at 4:09 p.m. CST

The search for a super bug continues, this time in Newark, Del., where biotechnology company Athena Biotechnologies Inc. has won a $100,000 U.S. DOE Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant. The researchers are targeting microbes that both live and produce ethanol at high temperatures, as well as bacteria that produce ethanol from cellulose.

Athena will use its trademarked and patented Quorom Sensing Quenching technology which interrupts a chemical messenger that stops bacterial growth in unfavorable environments. The growth-inhibiting feedback loop creates an obstacle for researchers wanting to grow bacteria samples large enough for studying potentially useful properties. As a result, the search for a hot bacterium has been hampered because likely candidates can't be cultured and studied.

Athena's chief technology officer Barry Marrs says the Quorum technology gives a 10-fold improvement in the ability to culture and isolate novel hyper-thermohiles. "We look forward to culturing these bacteria that produce ethanol at temperatures in excess of 80 degrees Celsius (176 degrees Fahrenheit) so that the production cost of ethanol can be significantly reduced."

If phase one milestones are met for the SBIR grant, the company expects to apply for additional funding of up to $750,000 to continue the work in optimizing ethanol production from the most promising microbes.