STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Penn State professors Ming Tien and John Carlson, along with one of their former post-doctoral fellows, Haiying Liang, have invented a method for modifying crop growth so that the resulting plants are easier to digest. The technology was patented by Penn State, and optioned by a company formed by Tien, professor of biochemistry in the Eberly College of Science, and Carlson, professor of molecular genetics in the College of Agricultural Sciences.
Their new startup, Lignolink, is commercializing a process for changing the lignin structure within plant cell walls, so that it can more easily be broken apart at protein “links.” Lignin is an important component in determining the strength and health of a plant, but is typically hard to digest for animals and is an impediment to cellulosic based biofuels production. The company’s innovative technology will enable the development of improved feed stocks for the biofuels industry as well as for dairy cows and livestock in general.
The research conducted was funded in part by Ben Franklin Technology Partners and further supported by the technical services of Ben Franklin’s entrepreneur-in-residence, Scott Welsh. With this backing, the research team was able to refine the technology, form a company and hire two employees. Subsequently, Lignolink has been able to secure a federal funding opportunity (a Small Business Innovation Research grant) with the National Science Foundation.
The company is currently in talks with several large plant technology companies about joint commercialization of the Lignolink technology in biomass feed stocks and forages.
Ben Franklin Technology Partners/CNP, an initiative of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and funded by the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority, provides investment capital, operational assistance and entrepreneurial support to emerging tech-based companies and small, existing manufacturers for the purpose of creating and retaining jobs in Pennsylvania. For more information, contact the central office in Innovation Park at 814-863-4558 or see the website at www.cnp.benfranklin.org.