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Targeted Growth Spins Off Algae Startup

May 13, 2011

Luke Timmerman, in Xconomy Seattle, writes that Margaret McCormick, Chief Operations Officer at Targeted Growth, is spinning off a new company from Targeted Growth, called Matrix Genetics, that will genetically modify single-cell cyanobacteria to make biofuels and specialty chemicals. She will be the CEO of the Seattle-based startup.

McCormick has led this quiet development effort for the past three years inside Targeted Growth. While that company pursued turning hybrid camelina seeds into jet fuel for Boeing, McCormick and her team of a dozen scientists were working behind the scenes on modifying cyanobacteria to produce more oils. Now that early tests have been passed, McCormick says this effort can compete with what’s being done at Craig Venter’s Synthetic Genomics and Cambridge, MA-based Joule Unlimited.

Matrix is made up of 12 scientists housed inside the Institute for Systems Biology. Jim Roberts, a professor at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and Fred Cross, a professor at Rockefeller University in New York, are outside advisors who have played a key role, McCormick says.

The Matrix team, which includes scientists from Merck, Stanford, and the University of Washington, gravitated about three or four years ago from camelina to cyanobacteria for a few reasons, McCormick says. “The genetics of cyanobacteria are simple. Unlike higher organisms like leafy plants and animals, the cyanobacteria cells have no nucleus. The DNA is more accessible, and more malleable than in higher organisms, she says. Since you’re starting with a simpler template, that makes it a bit easier to get a grasp of the molecular pathways that cells follow through various life processes like growth, division, and death.”

So far, Matrix has five patent applications filed, and is on the fundraising trail, with a goal of securing its first $10 million to $15 million, McCormick says. “We believe the return on investment for us will be in the genetics. Our expertise has always been in the genetics, and we don’t have…to build out the entire value chain.”

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