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Geltor’s cultured collagen creations, By Okezue Bell

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If you thought $18m in a Series A from biodesign company Geltor was a lot, try $91.3m for their Series B back in June, where they smashed their investment rounds.

Not even surprising, to be honest. What Geltor is doing is pretty epic.

Based in San Leandro, California, Geltor is a company leveraging the tool of cellular agriculture to develop customised proteins without the animal.

[They] audaciously [imagine] and deeply [explore] all the possibilities that the tree of life has to offer. With customer benefit at the fore of each step of the creative process, Geltor has created the largest selection of designer proteins that are crafted with unparalleled biocompatibility and functionality. These proteins are 100% animal- and GMO-free, globally scalable, and sustainably cultivated. Geltor’s products are the result of endless curiosity and ceaseless optimisation, clinically demonstrated for high performance.

If that’s not an aesthetic paragraph, then I do not know what is 👆🏾

Because of their charisma, having gone through the leading biotechnology startup accelerator IndieBio, and making sustainable animal-free collagen products, founders Alex Lorestani and Nick Ouzounov have been able to lead their company to $116.3m in funding, and Geltor is the 4th ever company of this biotech/alt. protein type to break $100m in funding.

Awesome 🤩.

But what’s more interesting is what they do.

Collagen Conundrum

Collagen is important.

It affects almost all of the production industries in the world!

But if we look at what it takes to make collagen, we find that it is not great for the animals that it is being extracted from!

tropocollagen

That’s collagen. Or tropocollagen rather, but we’ll get to it in a second.

Collagen is a structural protein found inside the extracellular matrix of the cell. That’s a lot of bolded words, huh? Let’s break them all down with a nicely made (IMO) graphic:

Reference my graphic if you ever get confused!

  • The extracellular matrix, or ECM, is the mother of the cell. it is a structure located in between cells. What the ECM does is that it provides biochemical and physiological support for the cell. Biochemical support allows for cellular processes to continue, while physiological support helps to maintain the shape, strength, and form of the cell.
  1. Microfilaments: Thin filaments made of the protein actin that are in the cytoplasm, and make up the cytoskeleton that format and shape the cytoplasm fluid network
  2. Integrin: These are receptors used by cells that allow them to bind to the ECM. They link the ECM and the cytoskeleton together.
  3. Fibronectin: A glycoprotein (a protein that attaches carbs to the polypeptides — which are strings of amino acids, the building blocks of protein) that allows for cells to stick to other stuff, which helps with organization, and the cell sustenance!
  4. Phospholipid Bilayer Membrane: A wall with two layers of phospholipids (a phosphate group attached to a molecule called a lipid). It has a hydrophobic (repels water) interior, and a hydrophobic head (exterior that attracts water). They make up the basic structure of the cell membrane.
  5. Elastin: A key ECM protein that makes the extracellular matrix elastic, and allows cells and tissues to reshape after stretching or contracting.
  • Collagen is a main structural and fibrous (meaning it is just shaped like fibers)protein found in the body’s connective tissues! it is about 35% of the body’s entire protein content, which is the most abundant in the entire body. Collagen can be found in a bunch of places; bones, muscles, skin, and tendons. Collagen even makes sure your skin stays healthy!

Problems with Collagen

So why is Geltor even trying to create collagen without animals?

This is why. Animals, especially bovines — who always seem to be on the worst end of production — are pressed for collagen.

Bovine collagen is especially rich and is constantly snatched so it can give us anti-aging creams, protein products, supplements, etc.

The collagen is not very hydrosoluble, meaning it dissolves super slowly in water. So, to extract the collagen from a cow, for example, you can use chemical hydrolysis, which is the introduction of water to break collagen down, and it can then be extracted, which KILLS the animal…

it is also not efficient, because collagen is present in a bunch of water when naturally produced, so it is quite resistant to hydrolysis.

The other process used to extract the collagen (which will also kill Mr. Cow) is enzymatic hydrolysis.

it is also the better option, though it is unfortunately not used as much in the production industry, it is still promising.

In this model of hydrolysis, an enzyme (basically a protein shake that makes chemical reactions go faster by clicking with a molecule called a substrate) drives the process of hydrolysis with the water. Using an enzyme is more efficient and produces less waste, but it is also expensive. Here’s how enzymes work:

They speed up reactions 🤩

But we’re still killing animals: cows, jellyfish, pigs. We destroy our aquatic friends and our cute, chubby bovines.

Solution A

So there’s an initial solution, which is:

And therefore do not drain the animal population dry.

Yeah, this is a pretty ok 👌🏾 solution, it is just that there are also a lot of problems with it:

  • A lot of people do not want to eat fish, chicken (ok yes), egg whites, citrus fruits, berries, red and yellow vegetables, garlic, and white tea. Ok fine, there are quite a lot of yes’ in there for me, but still. A lot of countries (sorry, US 😭) have a fat culture of unhealthy eating…
  • There’s not going to be an abundance to make products. We will not be able to make new cosmetic lines on a global manufacturing scale by pressing fruit. The same thing goes for new lotions, etc.
  • it is not much of a quick fix, and technically, animals still die to make the food containing collagen. How do you think we get the food in the first place? (not cellular agriculture or plant-based for the most part…yet)

But if you do not feel like having to do all this, why do not you just

Geltor.

Wow. That felt like an ad.

Geltor sells you collagen and elastin creams, anti-aging, and scents without draining a single animal. And they have pretty awesome branding.

Also, the spotlight melanated models super well, which is also awesome!!!

They’ve gone through rounds of clinical testing to make Elastapure®, HumaColl21®, and Collume®, which are their elastin and collagen products.

HumaColl21® is their fish collagen skincare that they say

boosts collagen production in fibroblasts and increases native collagen upregulation of over 12 types of human collagen

Promotes elastin and laminin upregulation demonstrably higher than fish collagen

Certifications: iGEN (non-GMO), Halal, PETA Cruelty-free, and Vegan

Available in 2% solution and powder form.

Collume® is their lotion brand that they say

Demonstrated in a pilot clinical study to increase skin firmness and elasticity, and improve skin moisturization as compared to traditional marine collagen

A cleaner ingredient compared to traditional animal-derived collagen, made through a sustainable fermentation process delivering superior purity and sensory appeal

Certifications: iGEN (non-GMO), Halal, PETA Cruelty-free, and Vegan

Available in 2% solution and powder.

Elastapure® is their vegan topical skin stretch care line, which they say

The largest molecular weight elastin fragment available on the market

Demonstrated anti-oxidant properties

High uniformity and purity, unlike animal-derived hydrolyzed elastins

Certifications: Halal, PETA Cruelty-free, and Vegan

Available in 2% solution and powder form.

Finally, as a design company, Geltor is launching their custom services partnership as well, where they will launch new products through associated daughter companies, and new companies looking to use their custom-designed products in their business products as well. Using Geltor’s ingredients creates a new business channel for Geltor to expand its market.

So, they have an array of collagen-elastin protein products that are great for your skin. I hope to try some of them soon, or at least check them out!

With collagen requests rising by 25%, and 9.7–11 billion people in 2050, collagen is super important, and so is elastin. People in all sorts of industries dealing with skin are craving these products.

Skincare and beauty are going vegan, and Geltor has an interesting product that is super attractive to the current industry.

So what’s the magic?

How Geltor Makes the Magic

Currently, Geltor has a patented process for recombinant collagen and elastin molecules and uses thereof.

They do this [again] through fermentation to produce the wanted proteins.

Fermentation

There are two main types of fermentation: lactic acid and alcoholic/ethanol.

Fermentation begins with glycolysis, except when we make pyruvate this time, there’s no ETC, or Kreb’s Cycle, oxidation, or any of that jazz. Instead, it goes through a different pathway system which ultimately creates NAD+ from the NADH in glycolysis, and this regeneration allows for glycolysis to reoccur.

So, let’s start with lactic acid fermentation.

Ever had that burning sensation in your muscles while doing any exercise, like running? Well, thanks to lactic acid fermentation, you get this sensation because lactic acid builds up in your muscles. As you breathe heavier, you intake less oxygen, meaning that your body has to rely on fermentation to continue glycolysis!

Side note: do not confuse this for tiredness or muscle soreness. The lactic acid buildup that affects you typically occurs at the point at which you are exercising hard and then your myocytes do not get enough oxygen.

So, this is what lactic acid fermentation (LAF) looks like:

Glycolysis occurs as it normally would, where 2 NAD+ are put in to give 2 NADH and also 2 pyruvates from the broken down glucose. However, instead of moving the ETC as we saw before, the pyruvates are instead converted to 2 lactic acid molecules, which are then ionized to form lactate! In the meantime, 2 NADH is oxidized into 2 NAD+, which allows for glycolysis to occur again.

Now, what about alcoholic fermentation 🍾🍷(***the other*** AF).

It looks like this:

Same as lactic acid, except were producing the ethyl alcohol instead! So we go through glycolysis, then we use the 2 pyruvates to create 2 acetaldehyde (a type of compound), which releases carbon dioxides. Then, the 2 acetaldehydes are converted through NADH to two ethanol alcoholic compounds, which then oxidize the NADH and turn it to NAD+, which is used to power glycolysis again. Now, let’s apply this to dairy.

The yeast undergoes the gene-edited alcohol fermentation process to create the two proteins, collagen, and elastin.

Making GM Yeast

So what we do is give the yeast the proper genes so that it can begin producing elastin and collagen just like most animals. These proteins inform the skin-healing and cosmetic-enhancing properties of Geltor’s products. Basically, after identifying the gene in the cow that makes the proteins, we (harmlessly) get it and introduce it to the yeast’s DNA. Then we get the plasmids (recall: circular bundles of DNA) to continuously replicate. This process is sometimes called cloning. It functions essentially like this: (9)

Because the plasmid never stops replicating, it is the site of the insertion of, for example, the COL1A1 gene, which is one of the most vital genes for protein production in collagen-yielding bovines. By the way, the plasmid is called recombinant after its gene-edited. The plasmids are essentially new gene DNA factories.

We cleave the gene that we want to replace, and then we insert the new one! Then the plasmid is put back in the yeast so that the plasmids can tell the chromosomes what’s going on so that the chromosomes (which are the main sites of DNA) assume that gene as well. This is called transformation.

Then when the yeast splits, it produces collagen and elastin!

When we have the collagen and elastin, the form that it is gotten in can be ground as powders, liquified into lotions, or pressed into creams!

So Geltor is awesome collagen and elastin-producing company, and I cannot wait to see what they accomplish. It is pretty awesome!

Before you go…

My name’s Okezue, a developer and researcher obsessed with learning and building things, especially when it involves any form of STEM. I primarily operate in the spaces of diversity/equity, human-computer interfaces, and bio-digital AI research. Check out my socials below, or contact me: [email protected].

I write something new every week on Sundiata, so I hope to see you again soon! I sure enjoyed writing this piece, and hope you like it.

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