The World's Largest Green Cleaning Company Just Slammed the Brakes on Solazyme

I have a bit of bad news for European consumers looking for clean laundry with the smallest environmental footprint possible. It may not be great news for Solazyme (NASDAQ: SZYM  ) investors, either. After taking some heat from activist groups, Ecover UK quietly decided to halt its use of renewable algal oils from Solazyme at the beginning of June to engage in discussions with non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, and scientists to fully address any concerns raised by either party. Ecover will decide its future plans for algal oils only after the review process is complete, which expected to take six months starting from early June.

Ecover's natural laundry detergent containing Solazyme's algal oils isn't sold commercially yet. Source: Amazon.com.

Ecover hasn't yet become a major customer for Solazyme in terms of volume: it tested algal oils in just 6,000 bottles of clearly labeled laundry detergent earlier this year. Either way, it would appear that Ecover has a pretty easy decision to make. After all, I pointed out seven reasons why the NGOs causing problems for synthetic biology companies weren't arguing with the facts on their side. However, the world's largest green cleaning company must also take consumer opinions into account. In a worst case scenario, Solazyme investors would be forgiven for writing off the impact of losing a customer that sported just $200 million in revenue in 2012. But what are the chances larger consumer products companies such as The Procter & Gamble Company  (NYSE: PG  )  and The Clorox Co  (NYSE: CLX  )  follow consumer opinions to a similar conclusion?

Two poorly defined terms, one big mess
Ecover responded to a misleading article written in The Ecologist by Jim Thomas, Program Director at ETC Group, with an article of its own. It was a good response, but Ecover may have gone a little too far by asserting "any allegations that we are using synthetic biology are untrue." To be fair, Ecover refuted the definition of synthetic biology from Thomas ("the ground-up redesign of life" isn't occurring commercially ... yet), but the oils sourced from Solazyme are most certainly created with synthetic biology. Sure, the company uses natural strains and less precise tools from time to time, but optimizing metabolic pathways to create high concentrations of lauric oils with next-generation molecular biology tools is called synthetic biology. Apparently, the easiest way to distance yourself from synthetic biology is to say you aren't using it in the first place.

Ecover can't have it both ways. The company wants all of the benefits of using synthetic biology ingredients (sustainability, pricing, sourcing) while telling its customers that it isn't using synthetic biology to avoid answering the looming question of "is this natural?" This could backfire if consumers feel they are being lied to or question why Ecover is going back and forth with definitions, which could ultimately force the company's hand to halt its use of renewable algal oils for good.

Solazyme can control fatty acid chain length, saturation, and positioning to tailor its oils. Source: Solazyme.

That presents an early potential problem for Solazyme and the synthetic biology industry. If consumers don't think products created by engineered organisms via industrial fermentation are natural, then companies may be more inclined to stick with products that are readily available and readily accepted as natural. Then again, fermentation is a natural process and DNA is a natural molecule. No one organism owns a gene (genes are often shared by many species across all kingdoms) and no one gene is immune from evolutionary alterations. Why should one ingredient produced from an organism with continuously changing DNA be considered natural if an ingredient produced from a fine-tuned organism is shunned?

Of course, when Cheetos can be labeled natural, I don't see why the argument only centers on the use of biotechnology.

Naturally, this might matter
You could argue that Ecover is a relatively small company and any decision to discontinue using renewable algal oils wouldn't be a death blow to Solazyme. That is true. In 2012 the European consumer products company extended its reach to acquire United States-based Method, which doubled its top line potential to over $200 million for the year. Despite playing David to Procter & Gamble and Clorox's Goliath, Method managed to grow its revenue 194% from 2005 to 2012. It's undeniable that the ultra-identifiable brand has piggybacked on -- and even spurred -- the growing popularity of green cleaning products and natural personal care products. 

So, how could this question of "natural" affect Solazyme and synthetic biology? Consider that Burt's Bees, owned by Clorox, prides itself on using all natural ingredients and is often referred to as "the most natural" personal care brand. Some of the ingredients used by the brand include coconut, cocoa butter, shea butter, and kokum butter -- all conceivably within reach of Solazyme's platform. Would Clorox use renewable algal oils in its products?

Burt's Bees takes its products -- and sourcing -- seriously. Source: Burt's Bees website.

Meanwhile, Procter & Gamble is going all-in on palm oil. That doesn't mean it won't consider using renewable oils from Solazyme in the future -- it only makes sense -- but a completely sustainable palm oil supply chain may delay that inevitable partnership. Similar to Solazyme's commitment to sourcing sustainable sugar cane in Brazil certified by Bonsucro, Procter & Gamble is a member of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil. While 100% of the palm oil it purchases is certified, the company is taking it one step further by ensuring no deforestation in its supply chain by 2020. (Yes, apparently certified palm oil can still contribute to deforestation). If Procter & Gamble can source all of its palm oil requirements from sustainable (albeit inefficient) sources and keep consumers happy, then it may be difficult to sell the company on oils created with synthetic biology should consumers reject the technology.

What to expect
If the decision on using Solazyme's renewable oils is left to the facts, then Ecover should have a pretty easy decision to make. Solazyme's renewable oils are hands-down more sustainable and have a smaller environmental impact than the ingredients they replace, such as coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils. Even when those ingredients are sourced sustainably or without deforestation, they require a much larger footprint than Solazyme's renewable oils -- and come with the added headaches of variable quality and centralized production.

However, Solazyme investors must also consider that the consumer plays a critical role in the adoption of its technology. It's one thing to sell an engineered plant to a farmer who needs that plant to make a living, but it's another thing entirely when your customers are consumer-facing personal care companies with established and reliable alternatives (determined on a case-by-case basis, since reliable alternatives don't always exist). If synthetic biology ingredients don't fit the consumer's definition of "natural" it may take considerably longer to sell products into personal care markets. There are other markets for Solazyme to penetrate, of course, but consumer rejection is a very real risk. 

Will synthetic biology pay dividends?
Procter & Gamble is looking into synthetic biology ingredients on a case-by-case basis, but the lauric acids it needs can be sourced quite easily from palm and palm kernel oils. That may not bode well for Solazyme in the immediate future, but a partnership between the two could pay dividends down the road. Rather than wait that out, our top analysts put together a report on a group of high-yielding stocks that should be in any income investor's portfolio. To see our free report on these stocks, just click here now.


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  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2014, at 2:18 PM, skfgiusgzdf wrote:

    Ecover told Natural Products: “We work with molecular biology and standard industrial fermentation to produce renewable, sustainable oils. We work with microalgae strains that have been in existence longer than we have, and we work within their natural pathways using decades-old molecular biology techniques to produce pure, sustainable oils.”

    Ecover says that while it remains committed to identifying sustainable agricultural sources, it also believes it has a responsibility to embrace new technologies to develop “future proof” ingredients resources.

    The company told Natural Products: “Assuming because something is natural, it is also more sustainable, is an over simplified view on things. We take inspiration from nature and follow nature’s logic, but we don’t blindly assume that because it is natural it is better. We use environmental science to make a well informed decision.”

    http://www.naturalproductsonline.co.uk/ecover-puts-algal-oil...

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2014, at 2:48 PM, RogerKnights wrote:

    "It may not be great news for Solazyme (NASDAQ: SZYM ) investors, either."

    Hopefully, most of that negativity is already priced in. The stock took a nose-dive when the NYT story came out, despite the announcement of Moema opening a day earlier. And the PPS has not made the headway it should have since. And Solazyme has customers waiting for other up-and-coming, non-SynBio products like AlgaVia and Encapso.

    "Ecover may have gone a little too far by asserting "any allegations that we are using synthetic biology are untrue." To be fair, Ecover refuted the definition of synthetic biology from Thomas ("the ground-up redesign of life" isn't occurring commercially ... yet), but the oils sourced from Solazyme are most certainly created with synthetic biology. . . .

    "Ecover can't have it both ways. The company wants all of the benefits of using synthetic biology ingredients (sustainability, pricing, sourcing) while telling its customers that it isn't using synthetic biology to avoid answering the looming question of "is this natural?" This could backfire if consumers feel they are being lied to or question why Ecover is going back and forth with definitions, which could ultimately force the company's hand to halt its use of renewable algal oils for good."

    I agree. I was amazed and dubious when Ecover said that. What it should do is be completely upfront and say that SynBio is preferable to SinBio (SinBio = "natural" plantations that have a worse environmental footprint, all things considered); that no SynBio organisms are in the end-product; that the consumer isn't consuming (ingesting) the end-product. that there's no chance of Solazyme's algae escaping or of doing damage if they do; and that the indirect effect of sugarcane expansion on Amazonian deforestation is iffy and slight (research and citations by SynBio proponents needed).

    "Solazyme investors must also consider that the consumer plays a critical role in the adoption of its technology. It's one thing to sell an engineered plant to a farmer who needs that plant to make a living, but it's another thing entirely when your customers are consumer-facing personal care companies . . . . If synthetic biology ingredients don't fit the consumer's definition of "natural" it may take considerably longer to sell products into personal care markets."

    But that only or mostly applies to companies that are making a big selling point of being natural and appealing to the Greenie crowd, like Ecover and Burt's Bees. (Their products may have a premium price, BTW.) Mass market consumers of Unilever's (lower cost?) Lux soap won't be nearly as much concerned. It is apparently planning to go worldwide with Solazyme's algal-based lauric acid. It is the #1 soap worldwide (under various names). So Unilever's Lux might be able to absorb all of Solazyme's production.

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2014, at 2:53 PM, TMFBlacknGold wrote:

    Here's Ecover's response on the issue, which I took out of the article above because of its length:

    "We have rigorously evaluated the algae-produced oil through our comprehensive ingredient tests – a process that involves a full independent assessment for human and environmental health. Because of some concerns that were raised by some specific NGOs, we decided to put any further steps to use algal oil on hold, until we have addressed all these concerns in detail. In order to do this, we are setting up an open debate with a wide spectrum of NGOs and scientists. We expect this process will take around six months. Only after that rigorous debate, we will provide a clear statement around what our future plans are regarding the usage of specific types of biotechnology.

    Currently we are in the early stages of a trial of algal oil. It has been tested in a single product, in one batch of 6000 bottles, which mentions algal oil in the ingredient list. As mentioned above, for the moment all further tests have been put on hold and only after this debate and with a broad stakeholder support will we consider starting to use it more widely. In this event we will label it clearly and support the decision with a clear statement about the technology on our website. We support your right to know and will continue to support regulations requiring ingredient disclosure in all cleaning products."

    Maxxwell

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2014, at 3:11 PM, RogerKnights wrote:

    PS: Ecover should also say that the Indonesian rainforest is under greater threat than the Brazilian (several reasons), and that Solazyme's sugarcane has, indirectly, only one-seventh the impact (at most) on the Brazilian rainforest that palm oil does on the Indonesian rainforest.

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2014, at 3:16 PM, RogerKnights wrote:

    PPS: Here’s a counterpunch Ecover (and Unilever) should consider: Add this statement to the label: “CONTAINS NO PALM OIL.” That ought to sway a lot of consumers.

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2014, at 7:30 PM, RogerKnights wrote:

    PPPS: Another argument Ecover should consider is this: Companies like Proterro have managed to patent a method of creating sugar artificially, from cyanobacteria (sp?) grown in water and sunlight. Within three years they expect to be producing this in commercial quantities at a cost that is about one-third that of sugar from sugarcane. The impact of this will be to halt the expansion of sugarcane acreage, and then to reverse it. That will, first, eliminate the objection that Solazyme's use of sugarcane is reducing biological diversity.

    Next, look ahead to the day when Solazyme uses that artificial sugar as its feedstock. That would tend to take acreage out of agricultural use and return it to the wild. It would then be perverse, from a sustainability perspective, to object to the consumption of SynBio products, would it not?

    IOW, if SynBio will soon be welcomed as salvationary, when it will be producing major ecological benefits, why stand on principle against it now, just because its ecological upside is isn't as striking? Won't doing that look, in the future, like mere posturing?

  • Report this Comment On July 07, 2014, at 11:34 AM, invbrow wrote:

    From Burt's Bees (Chlorox) web site on their ingredients:

    Willow Bark

    "Willow Bark is a perfect example. It's a natural, gentler source of the salicylic acid found in many synthetic skin care products—in fact, "salicylic" comes from the Latin word salix, meaning "willow tree." Just as Willow Bark protects the willow tree, so does your skin—your body's largest organ—protect you. You get the same tingle and freshness of synthetic products with none of the burning, redness, or breakouts."

    I'm not sure what they mean by a "...gentler source..." of salicylic acid, but I guarantee if it IS salicylic acid, it will burn and inflame the skin just as synthetic salicylic acid, if it is abused as the FDA has recently warned consumers about Aveeno et al skin washes.

    If the personal care people had to submit ads to FDA as the bio-pharma people are required to do, you wouldn't have a lot of this marketing double-speak.

  • Report this Comment On July 07, 2014, at 11:40 AM, invbrow wrote:

    MF: Your headline for this article is a little over the top. "Slammed the Brakes On..." - Really?!

    The good thing about this is the opportunity to clear the air, just as it did in the insulin product development battles of two decades ago when insulin went from an extracted product from slaughter house "waste" (sweetbreads - i.e. beef & pork pancreas) to production from synbio developed E.Coli or Bakers Yeast.

    Millions of people with diabetes Type I have benefited thru antibody reductions, reduced inflammation, disappearance of product shortages, more consistent product manufacturing et al avantages.

    Continue to parse the statements from both sides until true clarity is acieved and everyone will benefit, primarily the consumer!

  • Report this Comment On July 07, 2014, at 4:27 PM, TMFBlacknGold wrote:

    @RogerKnights

    I agree that Ecover should have taken a leadership position on the issue. Solazyme should have taken a leadership position, too, as it is also mysteriously backing away from saying that it uses synthetic biology by picking and choosing which definition it uses.

    A few things on Proterro, which you have gotten wrong on other forums in the past and I'd like to see you be more accurate about in the future, especially given your attention and excitement. The company is producing sucrose, not "artificial sugar", and also requires concentrated CO2, not just water and sunlight. If it does reach production costs as low as 1/3 the selling price of the commodity (Sugar No. 11) it won't be selling at production cost. It will also take a considerably long time to make a dent in the global sugar markets for such a novel technology.

    You're correct that it has all the makings of a game-changer, however. Proterro will be featured in an upcoming SynBioBeta Startup Report if you're interested. I spoke with CEO Kef Kasdin about the platform, progress to date, and commercial plans.

    Maxxwell

  • Report this Comment On July 08, 2014, at 2:35 PM, RogerKnights wrote:

    Maxx--Thanks for the correction about Proterro's use of CO2 as a feedstock. I thought that was the case, but I wasn't sure. I should have looked in my Proterro folder, but I was too lazy.

    If it's producing sucrose, that'll do just as well or even better for Solazyme, right?

    "If it does reach production costs as low as 1/3 the selling price of the commodity (Sugar No. 11) it won't be selling at production cost."

    Well, it'll still be cheaper than sugarcane, right? And it'll give Solazyme and Ecover a way to make the "rainforest / diversity threat" argument irrelevant.

    "It will also take a considerably long time to make a dent in the global sugar markets for such a novel technology."

    But it doesn't look as though Proterro's process requires the time-consuming construction of large infrastructure. It can be produced in glorified plastic bags on low-cost real estate in any sunny clime. If it takes even 5% of the global sugar market (a dent, IOW), that ought to put sugarcane acreage expansion into reverse. Actually, the mere prospect of Proterro's expansion will discourage investment in new sugarcane plantations.

    "I agree that Ecover should have taken a leadership position on the issue. Solazyme should have taken a leadership position, too . . . ."

    Amen. I think sometimes only outsiders like you, me, and Nathanael Johnson can see the obvious. The necessity of dealing with the full width and depth of ETC's case should have been obvious years ago, when ETC, FOE, and others were posting PDFs on the matter. Gary Cooper said, "My father told me, 'If trouble's coming down the road, go out to meet it.'" Words of wisdom. More: "Grasp the nettle."

    The hardest thing for PR types at Solazyme & Ecover to do will be to concede that ETC & FOE have some points on their side that can't be brushed aside. (E.g., the use of SynBio and the likelihood of SOME indirect impact on the Brazilian rainforest—and some direct impact on the Cerrado.) Those points must be acknowledged, then put in a larger perspective and weighed against other points. The audience must be trusted to be able to make a mature and discerning judgment, even if that often doesn't seem to be likely. In the long run, this up-front behavior is the only way to win, not by dodging and weaving.

  • Report this Comment On July 08, 2014, at 3:09 PM, upl8n8 wrote:

    Can you explain this?

    "Sure, the company uses natural strains and less precise tools from time to time, but optimizing metabolic pathways to create high concentrations of lauric oils with next-generation molecular biology tools is called synthetic biology. "

    Which tools exactly were used to develop the strains of algae that were used for Ecover's oil? As far as I understood it, Solazyme is using three types of algae to produce their oils; Naturally occurring, cross/selectively bred, and geneticially modified. It could be any of the three. Regardless of the type, Solazyme does have tools to monitor the DNA of the algae.

    Optimizing metabolic pathways does not necessarily mean manually modifying the algae's DNA, does it? It could be as simple as putting the algae through environmental scenarios, where only the algae that leads to the required criteria survives.

    As to the public perception. For some reason (and don't ask me why), if you modify an organism using cross breeding / selective breeding / environmental stimulus, it's natural... even though that changes the organism's DNA artificially. We do this in the crop world, and everyone thinks it's fine. However, when you modify specific genes in that DNA, suddenly it becomes a huge issue. Even if the genetic structure as a result of both processes is identical. People believe the first process is natural, and the second is not, even though both require human intervention.

    After exploring the world of anti-GMO/SB the past few weeks, I can tell you plainly that the complaints against this tech are unreasonable, irrational, and purely ideological. This is a psychological issue; people are willing to accept one form of genetic manipulation (cross/selective breeding) and reject another (GMO/SB) for no other reason than the belief that things done in a lab are not natural and are automatically bad for us.

  • Report this Comment On July 08, 2014, at 3:16 PM, upl8n8 wrote:

    "The World's Largest Green Cleaning Company Just Slammed the Brakes on Solazyme"

    If by 'just' you mean a month ago, and by 'slammed the brakes on Solazyme' you mean reduced a miniscule amount of production. 6000 bottles where algae oil makes up about 7% of the bottle is like what, less than a single MT?

    Ecover's decision could have repercussions in the 'natural products' world (which we all know is nothing more than an advertising campaign), but the question is how many companies, other than Ecover, have decided to hold off on orders of Solazyme oil for now? As far as we know, Ecover is the only one.

    Aren't you being a bit of a sensationalist with your headline?

  • Report this Comment On July 08, 2014, at 4:19 PM, abigchocoholic wrote:

    How about this for a scientific comment

    ''What a crock of you know what." No, really. Garbage in garbage out. From the protesting groups right down to this article. Whatever.

  • Report this Comment On July 08, 2014, at 6:15 PM, TMFBlacknGold wrote:

    @upl8n8

    Solazyme is now saying that it doesn't use synthetic biology at all to seemingly distance itself from the issues at hand. I assume that's where Ecover attained its stance from, too, so it really starts with Solazyme. However, that stance is only going to cause more problems in the future. Solazyme should have taken a leadership position on the issue rather than the "easy" way out.

    "Aren't you being a bit of a sensationalist with your headline?"

    I don't believe so. If NGOs hadn't made it an issue, then Ecover may have never postponed it's use of such ingredients until further review is conducted. I think "slamming the brakes" is actually quite fitting if you take the big picture view.

    Maxxwell

  • Report this Comment On July 08, 2014, at 6:17 PM, TMFBlacknGold wrote:

    @abigchocoholic

    Well, if you don't think consumer rejection is a risk for Solazyme, or that it isn't shooting itself in the foot and drawing more attention to itself by redefining its technology platform to fit the least controversial views possible, then that's your choice. I see things playing out differently.

    Maxxwell

  • Report this Comment On July 09, 2014, at 11:57 AM, upl8n8 wrote:

    "Solazyme is now saying that it doesn't use synthetic biology at all to seemingly distance itself from the issues at hand."

    No doubt Solazyme stopped using the term Syn-bio in their advertising because overnight, Syn-bio has become a 4-letter word just like GMO. Where exactly did they publicly state they don't use syn bio?

    As far as we know, which oils are they currently producing using syn bio algae? I'm not aware of any list being made public, other than their stating that their food products aren't made from syn bio. It sounds like much of their algae development is through environmental influence and selective breeding, rather than direct DNA modification.

    I don't understand how you can say that your headline isn't sensationalist. Ecover's postponement for a small portion of Solazyme's capacity is not slamming the brakes on the company as a whole. Do we even know if this 6 month timeline of Ecover is actually outside of what their regular schedule would have been anyways? We already know that they planned to be producing oil from an algae facility in Belgium in 3 years time. It sounds to me like they're just trying to delay the inevitable, and quash the storm of vitriol in its infancy. People are panicking over 'artificial' organisms, mostly because they are very quick to judge based on their ideological issues. Their fuss only matters if it comes all at once, by a lot of people, when the news first breaks. Waiting 6 months de-organizes the protest and spreads it out, to the point of being meaningless.

    Seriously, do any of us believe that this algae process is going to turn out to be unsafe for people/the environment? I highly doubt it. It's already been studied for quite awhile. We have instances of synbio being used in today's products without any issue. This is PR strategy, plain and simple. Slamming the breaks? More like coasting as traffic slows slightly on the freeway.

    What value does your headline actually give this article other than throwing gas on the flames. The headline is sensationalism.

  • Report this Comment On July 10, 2014, at 12:16 PM, TMFBlacknGold wrote:

    @upl8n8

    Agree to disagree on the headline, then. Ecover decided to halt its use of Solazyme's algal oils only after it was targeted by NGOs. That's not really up for debate. See the statement from Ecover I posted as a comment above that states, "Because of some concerns that were raised by some specific NGOs, we decided to put any further steps to use algal oil on hold."

    Sudden and unexpected conjures up the image of "slamming the brakes" to me.

    You're idea of "de-organizing" protests isn't exactly accurate, since giving NGOs a voice in the ultimate decision to continue or discontinue using algal oils cannot possibly work out in the company's favor. If Ecover discontinues, Solazyme loses a partner and NGOs will only become more empowered (they're already beginning to target Encapso products). If Ecover continues, Solazyme will get even more scrutiny from these groups that had a voice in the decision and were seemingly "neglected."

    "It sounds like much of their algae development is through environmental influence and selective breeding, rather than direct DNA modification."

    Haha how exactly would "selective breeding" for algae work? The point isn't that multiple techniques are employed, it's the cowardice of Solazyme. I visited in May, and everyone openly discussed synthetic biology and how awesome it was. Then when storm clouds gathered, everyone put their tails between their legs and ditched.

    Solazyme has now told me that they don't use synthetic biology ***based on a definition they are using***. This helps it keep its distance, but Solazyme's definition isn't really used in the industry. I don't think distancing will be possible and the lack of leadership on the issue will only hurt the company's image in the long run. Why not come out and say "Yeah, we're using synthetic biology for some oil profiles. Why shouldn't we? It allows us to do X, Y, and Z."

    This is just a big PR mess, which is a shame, because Solazyme had a golden opportunity to fortify its leadership position in the industry. Why should this not be up for discussion? Even though you or I want Solazyme to succeed, we shouldn't just sweep issues such as this under the rug and only talk about the good things. Not very fair and balanced.

    Maxxwell

  • Report this Comment On July 16, 2014, at 5:00 PM, upl8n8 wrote:

    "Sudden and unexpected conjures up the image of "slamming the brakes" to me. "

    Yes, it does. By Ecover. NOT by Solazyme. Your headline infers that Ecover's decision has "slammed the breaks" on Solazyme's production. You made this statement by first stating "The World's largest green cleaning company", inferring that this is a large chunk of Solazyme's demand being cut. Look, it doesn't take a freaking rocket scientist to show how your headline is stretching the facts. Curious, you're the expert, what percentage of total demand will this be cutting from Solazyme's capacity within the next 6 months?

    I can see why you would use this type of misleading headline. If you wrote a headline that was actually representative of the situation, a *potentially* minimal setback for Solazyme, then why would anyone read about this minor issue? Therefore, the sensationalist headline is to draw readers to a minimal issue that they wouldn't have otherwise cared about.

    As to the protests, I said that this was possibly their intent. Just my opinion. You haven't answered the question though, does this do anything to change Ecover's timeline if they continue on with Algae oil?

    ____

    "The point isn't that multiple techniques are employed, it's the cowardice of Solazyme."

    Does the definition of breeding require mating? Depends on the algae. How about selective reproduction then? One thing is clear. How the algae comes to be makes a difference for the anti-GMO NGOs. For some odd reason, it seems to be completely fine for a company to use environmental stimulus to push an organism's natural selection in one direction. (See crop seeds) The organism's DNA evolves, without manual intervention directly to the DNA, showing that given the correct environment, it is possible for the organism's DNA to "naturally" change this way. Whereas direct DNA modification means it may only ever happen with human intervention.

    Like I said, I don't see the difference either way in the big picture, but it seems to make all the difference for the NGOs. (Last I checked, they'll eat corn, just not GMO corn) Isn't it therefore reasonable for you to at least question why Solazyme's definition changed?

    I think it's pretty clear:

    The NGOs have decided to define Syn Bio as "extreme genetic engineering" by humans "manually changing DNA in a lab". Therefore, based on this definition spreading like wildfire through the NGO community, the term Syn Bio may no longer be representative of the process that Solazyme is actually using. (Where the previous broader untainted definition of Syn Bio may have fit before) If they're using the environmental stimulus to achieve their goals, rather than manually modifying the DNA, then for them to use the term Syn Bio as NGOs are using it, is to misrepresent what they may actually be doing.

    This is all hypothetical, because WE (you and I) do not seem to know exactly what process Solazyme is actually using to produce the algae used in Ecover's oil. This is why I find your statement that Solazyme is definitely using Syn Bio to be so misleading. You simply gave no information to backup your reasoning, or their reasoning.

    Looks like Jim Thomas (one of the most rancid individuals I've ever had the displeasure of talking to) has now jumped on this article to quote your very points about Solazyme using Syn Bio. Remember, it's Jim Thomas who has propagated the idea that Syn Bio is "Extreme genetic modification". If he's quoting you, and you have not backed up your reason, then what better time to play Marvin Gaye's "I Heard it Through the Grapevine".

  • Report this Comment On July 16, 2014, at 5:06 PM, upl8n8 wrote:

    To make this a bit more blunt:

    Your definition of Syn Bio is A.

    Jim Thomas' definition of Syn Bio is B.

    If Jim Thomas' quotes you as saying that Solazyme and Ecover are definitely using Syn Bio, then he's quoting you based on his definition, not yours.

    Interpretation of the term matters. Technically he's misquoting you if you agree that we don't know which form of syn bio is being used, where his definition is very strict on which form is used.

  • Report this Comment On July 18, 2014, at 9:27 AM, TMFBlacknGold wrote:

    @upl8n8

    "Your headline infers that Ecover's decision has "slammed the breaks" on Solazyme's production. You made this statement by first stating "The World's largest green cleaning company", inferring that this is a large chunk of Solazyme's demand being cut."

    No, Ecover simply slammed the brakes on sourcing from Solazyme, which doesn't have much capacity yet. If you want to frame it as you're insisting, then it would still have financial impacts since Ecover could be an important partner for Solazyme in the future -- if not for capacity (that too) then for customer base and PR.

    "does this do anything to change Ecover's timeline if they continue on with Algae oil?"

    Yes, that was answered by Ecover. Again, they said "Because of some concerns that were raised by some specific NGOs, we decided to put any further steps to use algal oil on hold." That states pretty clearly that the timeline was pushed back.

    "Isn't it therefore reasonable for you to at least question why Solazyme's definition changed?" >> "This is all hypothetical, because WE (you and I) do not seem to know exactly what process Solazyme is actually using to produce the algae used in Ecover's oil. This is why I find your statement that Solazyme is definitely using Syn Bio to be so misleading. You simply gave no information to backup your reasoning, or their reasoning."

    I'm with you on the whole changing DNA thing, but when I met with Solazyme in May everyone discussed how awesome synthetic biology was. They even wanted me to nail down a definition so that they could think about using the term. Now when the going gets tough they cherry-pick a definition (not widely accepted in the industry as it lacks information) to make it seem as though they aren't using it at all.

    I'm not whining or making things up -- this stems from my direct correspondence with the company and a flip-flopping approach to the term. Solazyme stated that because they aren't making organisms de novo that they aren't using synthetic biology. Yeah, well, no one is making organisms de novo yet, so I guess I'm out of a job.

    "The NGOs have decided to define Syn Bio as "extreme genetic engineering" by humans "manually changing DNA in a lab". "

    This is done for fear and misinformation of the uninformed public, however, as the definitions widely accepted by industry are actually quite broad. If NGOs taint the word "synthetic biology" (with any definition) then the entire industry will be feared. Just look at what happened to the words "genetically modified organism". There are multiple techniques and multiple applications, but the blanket term "GMOs" has such a negative connotation people who don't know anything oppose Golden Rice with the same viciousness as Roundup-Ready Corn.

    We shouldn't draw lines to define synthetic biology, either, but we should be more engaging with the public (learning from biotech crops).

    "Jim Thomas"

    Well, not exactly known for ethical conduct relating to the discussion of scientific topics. I cannot help it if he thinks me calling for transparency from the industry puts me on his side.

    Maxxwell

  • Report this Comment On July 29, 2014, at 4:22 PM, thiagorulez wrote:

    As long as they use a product that works, I don't think it makes much difference. A green cleaning service has to keep a close eye on what it uses, of course. I'm thinking about hiring a cleaning service for our offices. Thiago | http://www.ritewaycleaningcanberra.com.au

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