Professors from Penn State University, 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 Drs. Tien and Carlson.
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 Partner’s 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 (SBIR 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.