Protabit Awarded NSF Grant to Engineer Methane Oxidizing Enzymes for Biosynthesis of Fuels and Chemicals

February 6, 2014

National Science Foundation Awards Phase I Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Grant to Engineer Methane Activating Enzymes for Biosynthetic Production of Fuels and Chemicals

PASADENA, CA, February 6, 2014 — The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase I grant to an industry-academic partnership led by Protabit LLC. In collaboration with the Mayo lab at the California Institute of Technology and the Rosenzweig lab at Northwestern University, Protabit will engineer enzymes that convert methane to methanol as part of a biosynthetic pathway that uses natural gas to produce fuels and high-value chemicals.

The project focuses on creating a soluble, active methane monooxygenase (MMO) that expresses well in a recombinant host and is amenable to high-throughput protein engineering. Dr. Amy Rosenzweig, professor in the Department of Molecular Biosciences and the Department of Chemistry at Northwestern and a leading authority on MMOs, noted, “Unlike chemical catalysts, MMOs can selectively oxidize methane under ambient conditions and may thus provide a useful model for an efficient, environmentally sound catalyst.”

Protabit will apply its computational protein design software to engineer improved MMOs. “Use of Protabit’s state-of-the-art computational tools will allow us to generate and screen libraries of novel sequences to rapidly identify recombinant MMO variants with the desired properties,” said Dr. Stephen Mayo, Protabit co-founder and Chair of the Division of Biology and Biological Engineering at Caltech.

Dr. Barry Olafson, Protabit CEO and co-founder added, “We are pleased to receive this grant from the NSF, which will allow us to develop a platform for optimizing an MMO for industrial use. An optimized MMO is key for the biosynthetic conversion of methane gas to biofuels and chemicals. This process can then be incorporated into a modular micro-scale gas-to-liquids solution that can reduce or eliminate wasteful gas flaring at remote gas sources. We remain committed to improving and applying our software to help develop solutions to reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil and decrease our carbon footprint.”

About Protabit LLC

Protabit LLC engineers proteins for industrial, agricultural, and healthcare applications. The company’s platform technology is being developed via a strategic partnership with the Monsanto Company and the California Institute of Technology. Protabit’s protein engineering approach combines computational modeling with high-throughput screening and directed evolution to expand the diversity of protein sequences that can be explored to produce novel proteins. For additional information, please visit