Harnessing biology to produce sustainable ingredients - Announcing our investment in Twig
Today, Twig is publicly launching after several months under the radar. We are thrilled to announce that we invested in Twig in December last year, and are excited to see how rapidly they are progressing.
Twig harnesses biology to produce sustainable chemicals and ingredients in a fermentation process by engineering the metabolic pathways in bacteria. Many ingredients and chemicals found in everyday products are produced from fossil fuels or intensive farming. Transitioning to biofermentation will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and hazardous chemical processes.
Synthetic biologists Helena Philpott and Daniel Dixon in the Twig labs in London.
Biofermentation (or biomanufacturing) needs to be cost competitive for these sustainable alternatives to succeed. One of the pain points for bioprocesses, and a real issue for profitability, is the yield for a given amount of feedstock. Twig’s AI-powered bioengineering approach vastly reduces the timing and cost to engineer high-yield, ingredient-producing bacterial strains. One of Twig’s key advantages, and the reason why we see them as leaders in this field, is their unique ability to get close to the maximum theoretical yield by finding the best possible genetic enhancements of the metabolic pathways from feedstock to product. Additionally, Twig’s highly efficient process uses state-of-the-art low-cost, high-throughput automation. These two factors combined means Twig can make sustainable ingredients a commercial reality.
Right: James (Twig founder) working on the Twig platform in their London office.
Twig maps metabolic pathways for a range of chemicals and ingredients. They have prioritised a list of those that are technically feasible, high impact and commercially viable.
Among these, palm oil is one of Twig’s early targets. This incredibly versatile ingredient is found in many everyday products, from ketchup to toothpaste. Most is produced from oil palm plantations in tropical regions which were former peatland forests. Peatland forests consist of peat soils and wetland habitats that are particularly rich in carbon, causing high greenhouse gas emissions - and the loss of a carbon sink - when they are drained and cleared for plantations. Increasing demand for palm oil means further deforestation. A bio-fermented alternative would be far more efficient in terms of land use, GHG emissions, and water and nutrient inputs.
It is rare to find a team as experienced and impressive as this founding team. Dr James Allen and Dr Satnam Surae are former colleagues with academic and industry experience in bioengineering and AI for synbio. CEO, Dr Russ Tucker, was a PhD colleague of James’ and previously founded Ivy farm (a UK cultivated meat pioneer). The Twig founders are joined by a stellar team of bioinformaticians, AI specialists, synthetic biologists (and two friendly canine companions).
Left: The Twig founding team (from right to left) Satnam, James, Russ with Sarah and Pippa at the UKBAA awards. Twig won Deep Tech Investment of the Year, 2023.
We invested in Twig’s seed round, which was led by Project A and included Seedcamp, UK Innovation and Science Seed Fund, Gaingels and several expert angels through Hack Capital. ZCC’s Sarah has a board observer role and is happy to support a team whose vision to protect the environment by producing sustainable ingredients aligns so well with ZCCs mission.