Let's start from the beginning. When did Polybion start? What was the inspiration that led to this engineering with biology?
Polybion starts with the story of two Mexican brothers, Axel and Alexis. Their mother is a chemist pharmacologist, and their father, a biochemical engineer and entrepreneur. The Gómez Ortigoza brothers grew in awe of how life, nature, and the universe worked from
very young age.
In 2014, while participating in a Synthetic Biology competition at MIT, Axel came across a mushroom biomaterial. He saw its potential and then mentioned it to Alexis. They took the idea to their friend Bárbara, who as a material scientist, immediately shared their vision and the three decided right then over coffee to start a company to biofabricate mushroom material (which we are no longer producing since we decided to focus on bacterial cellulose since 2019).
How many years did the R&D take? What was the initial investment like?
The initial R&D took almost two years, from 2014 to 2016. Axel started working in a tiny space in his mother's laboratory. In the meantime, Bárbara introduced the GO brothers to a government innovation grant. Unfortunately, the first interested investors backed down five days before the deadline, so Alexis decided to put his life savings on both brothers' behalf. Bárbara set the missing part, and the three founded a new company in only five days. Polybion survived for at least four years out of awards, prices, and government grants.
How do you see the future of biomaterials? What are the hurdles that could impediment their growth?
We’ve used leather, silk, wool, fur, down, and exotic fur for centuries. Unfortunately, these animal-derived materials present environmental and ethical challenges, which are increasingly pressing problems for the human population. Later, the invention of synthetics in the 20th century allowed inexpensive petroleum-derived alternatives to animal-derived materials: polyurethane, PVC, polyester, acrylic, and more. Unfortunately, these alternatives are also unsustainable and ethically worrisome. But, today, the bio revolution brings a new crop of scientists, artists, and innovators pioneering next-generation biomaterials. These innovations are high-performance, animal-free, and more sustainable. This is the next generation of our economy. In a few words, new biological ways of making and processing materials, chemicals, and energy will transform many industries and our daily lives. In Polybion, we are constantly innovating to find new and better solutions.
The next-generation biomaterials are here now, scaling and reaching every market and human being, but what comes next?
New experiments include innovations related to the production of materials such as improved fermentation processes, new bio routes utilising the ability to edit the DNA of microbes to develop novel materials with entirely new properties, and building on advances in biofuels to innovate new forms of energy storage. Jose Manuel Aguilar, Polybion’s Chief Scientific Officer, defines novel materials as "bio metamaterials," which are materials that don't exist in nature and are not created by any living beings we know.
By introducing bio metamaterials to the market, we will be able to reach industries like the pharmaceutical industry, the healthcare industry and pretty much any industry to offer sustainable solutions to manufacturing processes.