Lumen Bioscience’s Engineered Spirulina Wins Climate Prize

Lumen Bioscience

Mesfin Gewe, senior scientist at Lumen Bioscience, holds a dish filled with powdered spirulina cells, each one filled with a therapeutic protein payload. To target methane gas, the spirulina has been engineered to express the methanogen-targeting lysin protein. Once in the cow rumen, the protein will destroy the methanogen microbes. Photo credit: Lumen Bioscience

Seven years ago, Lumen Bioscience scientists discovered how to genetically engineer the edible algae spirulina. Based on that research, they built a drug discovery and biomanufacturing platform mainly for developing new, orally delivered biogenic drugs against gastrointestinal (GI) targets that cause human disease.

Seven years later, Lumen Bioscience is the inaugural winner of the $1.5 million Wilkes Center Climate Prize at the University of Utah. The Seattle-based biotech company beat 77 international teams with their proposal to drastically reduce methane emissions from dairy and beef cattle using a patented mixture of enzyme proteins.

Their winning project extends the approach to target the methane-producing microorganisms in the rumen, a specialized compartment of the cow’s GI tract.

Lumen scientists engineered spirulina to biomanufacture a natural enzyme protein and showed that the spirulina-lysin destroys methanogens within minutes. The lysin-containing spirulina are so effective at killing methanogens that adding a tiny amount to the cow’s diet is enough to make them methanogen-free.

“Lumen Bioscience has an audacious, creative goal to reduce methane emissions, a major contributor to climate change,” said William Anderegg, director of the University-based Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy. “It’s perfect for the Wilkes Climate Prize — we want to supercharge a credible, ambitious idea that may be too risky for traditional funding sources. They’ve patented the technology and they’ve shown it works in the lab. Now, we want them to scale it up.”

Anderegg made the announcement at a press conference on Sept. 22, 2023, at the Natural History Museum of Utah. The Prize is one of the largest university-affiliated climate prizes in the world and it was created to push through potential breakthroughs with a one-time, unrestricted cash award.

Lumen will use the Wilkes Climate Prize at the University of Utah to continue enhancing this enzyme cocktail, evaluate safety and efficacy in test cows, determine optimal dose size and dose frequency, and validate the requisite large-scale outdoor production methods.

The program will initially live within a new division of Lumen Bioscience called Rumen Biotechnologies, which will likely be spun out within the next 12-18 months into a new standalone entity with a focused management team and investors.

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