Upstate/ESF project receives Technology Accelerator Fund award

An Upstate Medical University/SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry project that uses new synthetic enzymes to create bioethonal has been selected to receive up to $50,000 in funding from the SUNY Technology Accelerator Fund (TAF).

TAF, a joint program of the State University of New York (SUNY) and the Research Foundation for SUNY, supports innovation by SUNY faculty, students and staff by providing funding to accelerate development and commercialization.

“SUNY faculty, students and staff are conducting research and developing innovations that have the potential to change the world we live in for the better, and the Technology Accelerator Fund is one way SUNY can help bring their ideas to market,” said SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher.

Leading the Upstate/ESF collaborative are Stewart N. Loh, PhD, professor and vice chair of biochemistry and molecular biology at Upstate, and Arthur Stipanovic, professor of chemistry at SUNY-ESF.

“Our technology may help convert plant waste into liquid fuel for cars and trucks,” said Loh.  “Not only is bioethanol renewable, it’s more greenhouse friendly than fossil fuels. The TAF award is unique because it connects us basic researchers with partners in the biofuels industry who can help take our ideas to products.”

For their project, Loh and Stipanovic are using a set of protein building tools developed at Upstate and protein activity testing technology developed at ESF to produce synthetic cellulosomes for bioethanol production.

Cellulosomes are multi-enzyme complexes which enable certain bacteria to efficiently break down the cellulose in woody plant matter into easily digestible sugars. Likewise, synthetic cellulosomes will enable bioethanol producers to efficiently degrade cellulose-rich feedstocks, such as wood and switch grass into sugars from which ethanol can easily be produced through fermentation, thereby helping make bioethanol a cost-competitive alternative to petroleum-based gas and diesel.

The Upstate/ESF project was one of five SUNY campuses to receive the TAF awards. The other campuses include Stony Brook University, Downstate Medical Center, the University of Buffalo and the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. The proposals were evaluated by the TAF managing director with input from external experts in various fields of science and business development. Factors considered for the awards include: availability of intellectual property protection, marketability, commercial potential, feasibility, and breadth of impact.

TAF works in concert with other related programs to promote entrepreneurship within the SUNY system, such as the Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) award that helps to identify the milestones necessary to move a discovery-based idea to market. Earlier this year, Upstate was the recipient of an EIR award for a project that will focus on ways to attract a prominent, private sector entrepreneur who will work with faculty and students to identify technologies that have viable new spin off ventures.

Caption: Stewart N. Loh, PhD, professor and vice chair of biochemistry and molecular biology at Upstate.

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