FST's Kyria Boundy-Mills wins STAIR grant


An award from the UC Davis STAIR program will enable commercial development of a recent discovery in the laboratory of Kyria Boundy-Mills. Several yeasts in the Phaff Yeast Culture Collection were found to secrete significant quantities of glycolipids. These compounds have biosurfactant activity, which means they can be used as detergents, antifoam agents, emulsifiers, and many other uses. 

The global market of surfactants is projected to reach more than $41 billion by 2018, of which $2.2 billion will be biosurfactants. A class of biosurfactants called sophorolipids are currently on the market in eco-friendly laundry and dishwashing detergents, institutional and industrial cleansers, cosmetics and hand soaps. Because current production methods are costly, these products are primarily upscale, specialty market items. Lowered production costs would allow sophorolipids to penetrate markets ranging from petroleum recovery (fracking) to therapeutics, particularly where their nontoxic and biodegradable nature are of value. Many of these yeasts were isolated decades ago by the late Food Science professor Herman Phaff, and have been maintained in the collection by Boundy-Mills since she took over the management of the collection in 2001. 

Boundy-Mills recently filed a provisional patent application on a significantly improved process to produce renewable, sustainable biosurfactants called sophorolipids, as described on the UCD Innovation Access website. The new technology reduces both input material costs and product purification costs. The proposed work will solidify the patent claims, and also generate data for marketing the technology to industrial partners. Aims include characterizing surfactant activity as a detergent, emulsifier, solubilizer and as an antifoam agent, and fine-tuning the chemical structure identification. Collaborators on this project include Stephanie Dungan and Bruce German (Food Science and Technology), David Block (Viticulture and Enology), and Oliver Fiehn and Tom Cajka (West Coast Metabolomics Center)."