[100 Emerging Women Leaders] Diving into the world of biotech with Dr Ezhil Subbian
“From early on, I had a fascination with biology. Interestingly, my mother was a doctor, and my sister got into the medical field as well,” she says. “I thought that the area of biology with engineering or math was very interesting. Right around the time I completed 12th grade, biotech was just coming up in India.”
Back then, not many people were familiar with biotech and there were a lot of misconceptions about the field, according to Dr Ezhil. Since then, the scope for biotechnology has grown in the country and has gotten far more diverse than what she had initially anticipated.
“Biotech takes into account what nature has already solved to make our lives easier,” she says.
Dr Ezhil co-foundedafter working for over 15 years in engineering and scale-up of various biobased products at startups in the US, including Codexis and Gevo, a renewable energy company founded by a Nobel Laureate. She then went on to work on her ideas, which led to the founding of String Bio, which works on fermentation.
The entrepreneur has PhDs in biochemistry, biophysics, and molecular biology from the Oregon Health and Science University and Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey-New Brunswick.
Her team at String Bio looks at fermentation, a process that has been in practice since ancient times, a little differently from a layperson. String Bio aims to find raw materials for fermentation from greenhouse gases. With climate change disrupting lives across the globe, this is something that could lead to a great change.
“Methane is a greenhouse gas, but it’s also a high-energy molecule. We thought about whether we could take methane and use its raw material for fermentation. So, the idea is to take an ancient art and update it,” explains the entrepreneur.
String Bio is among the handful of companies worldwide (and the only Asian company) that have successfully enabled a methane-based value chain. Its proprietary platform (SIMP: String Integrated Methane Platform) leverages advances in synthetic biology, fermentation technology, chemistry, and process engineering to build a circular value chain.
The company has two products ready for the market.
The first product is called String Pro, which addresses the $70-billion protein market for animal feed. String Pro is a high-quality protein that addresses the growing worldwide demand for sustainable protein. It is a cost-effective and high-performance protein for the aquaculture market. String Bio is currently scaling its protein production.
The second product, a biostimulant, addresses the $2.5-billion market for agricultural applications.
The other products in the pipeline are aimed at tackling gaps and pain points in the animal nutrition, agriculture, cosmetics, and food sectors.
String Bio is currently taking raw materials and creating a range of products from them. This includes creating protein, which can be used to develop an alternative to meat. The materials can also serve as a base for cosmetic products.
“The aim is to ensure that there is a sustainable food system for the future generations through the medium of science. I had a strong push to bring sustainable solutions to the market,” explains Dr Ezhil.
String Bio's work has won several international awards and grants, including the Future Food Asia Award and the EnABLE Startup Award in the industrial biotechnology sector.
Speaking about biases in the field of science, Dr Ezhil says, “Fortunately I’ve grown up in an environment where there were no biases. So, I’ve been programmed into thinking that way and looking beyond it. And that made a big difference … The world needs innovative solutions and for that, we need a lot more women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, medicine).”
Edited by Swetha Kannan