ZBiotics' First Patent
ZBiotics’ first patent was recently approved. Here’s what it means.
ZBiotics has its first patent: US10849938B2.
One patent alone isn’t earth-shattering news. Thomas Edison amassed over 1,000 in his lifetime. But as a team of microbiologists, we know that big things start small.
The technology covered by this patent is an exciting signal of things to come – not just for ZBiotics, but also for the future of personal health.
What this patent is about
We started developing this technology in 2016. In September 2017, we filed a provisional patent application. Now, more than three years later, the US Patent Office has approved and issued ZBiotics a full, valid patent.
Broadly, the patent covers two things:
1. A system for building Genetically Engineered Microbes (GEMs)
The first is a unique “gene expression system” for probiotic microorganisms. Designing this was Step 1 of building our genetically engineered microbe (GEM).
It started with simply understanding how a certain microbe’s DNA – its genetic code – affects that microbe’s behavior. Once that was understood, we used genetic engineering to design certain changes to that DNA so that the microbe could perform an additional, useful function on top of its normal behavior.
We hadn’t yet defined what that useful function was going to be. That was Step 2. But quite a bit of upfront work went into transforming a regular old microbe into something we could leverage, while at the same time making sure the microbe remained safe and viable. This new “gene expression system” is a platform we can use to make new engineered microbes more easily.
Note: This process is kind of like training a horse to be rideable. Before you can train a horse to do something more specific – like jumping or roping – you first need to train them simply to accept a saddle and rider.
If equestrian metaphors aren’t your jam, you can also think of it like writing an API for a microbe’s internal operating system. You have yet to design any application software, but designing an API lays the groundwork for multiple future applications, each of which can then make use of the operating system more quickly and with less effort.
2. An application of that system to build a GEM that breaks down acetaldehyde
Once the platform was developed, Step 2 was to define the function we wanted our microbe to perform, then engineer that function into the microbe using our gene expression system. In other words, pick an application and use the platform to make it work.
The specific application covered in this patent – the one deployed in ZBiotics’ first product – is the ability of a genetically engineered microbe to break down acetaldehyde, a byproduct of alcohol.
This is a unique behavior for a probiotic microbe. In technical terms, it is the robust (abundant) and constitutive (always on) expression (production) of an enzyme called acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, which breaks down acetaldehyde.
Strip the technical jargon away, though, and you have a powerful, useful new piece of technology: a probiotic drink that helps you feel better the day after drinking alcohol.
What this patent means for the future
Patents are always good news for a team like ours. As scientists, we work hard to invent technology that both enables new products and advances the state of our field. Patents validate the novelty and uniqueness of that technology, and provide protection against copy-cats and bad actors.
But this particular patent feels like more of a milestone.
When we launched ZBiotics publicly a year and a half ago, it was the first time this technology had been deployed to target acetaldehyde. More importantly, it was also the first time a probiotic microbe built with genetic engineering had been made available in a consumer product.
It will not be the last.
This patent lays the groundwork for new genetically engineered microbes (GEMs), each of which will serve its own unique function – its own useful application. It’s our intention that these GEMs form the basis of an emerging category of engineered probiotic products that people can use to improve their daily lives in powerful, unprecedented ways.
At ZBiotics, we are thrilled to be doing the research and development necessary to make this vision a reality.
That vision had to start somewhere. This patent – with its unique combination of G’s, A’s, C’s, and T’s – is that starting point. We’re so excited to share more with you soon.