History – University of Osaka Japan, 2010

Sintawee Sulaiman, a PhD researcher at the university was working on modifying an enzyme found in LCC – leaf branch compost cutinase.  As LCC helps microbes break down the leaf’s waxy coating, the team hoped it might be able to degrade plastic.  Sulaiman was successful in her experiment when she was able to see the degradation of PET plastic by the enzyme. (BBC Report)

This discovery laid the foundation for significant advancements in plastic degradation, leading to the birth of two international startups inspired by Sulaiman’s research.

Next 8 Years – Carbios Startup, France

Over the next eight years, Professor Alain Marty and his team re-engineered and perfected LCC. The modified enzyme could completely break down PET into its original monomers with 96% purity, offering a sustainable alternative to virgin plastics. This breakthrough led to the formation of Carbios, a French startup company that commercialised the technology.

Year 2020 – Samsara Eco Startup, Australia

In 2020, PhD students Matthew Spence and Vanessa Vongosuthi at the Australian National University embarked on similar research, aiming to find a naturally occurring enzyme to break down PET plastics. Their focus was on the enzyme PETase, which recently evolved in nature to tackle synthetic plastics. Isolated from a novel bacteria in 2016, the enzyme showed promise. Matthew and Vanessa worked on optimizing the enzyme for thermostability and functionality.

Paul Riley, from Main Sequence Ventures, picked up an article about Mathew and Vannesa’s research and contacted them leading to the birth of Samsara Eco. The startup raised $1 million AUD.  Over the last two years, Samsara Eco tested and validated the enzymes for degrading different plastics including PET, polyester, polyurethane, and more.

Both Carbios in France and Samsara Eco in Australia are examples of how a single researcher’s pioneering work at the University of Osaka sparked innovation and inspired the creation of startups dedicated to combating plastic pollution. These initiatives showcase the global impact of scientific research and the potential for sustainable solutions to address environmental challenges.