You might not realize how many items you use every day contain palm oil. Shampoo. Lipstick. Nutella. Bread. Ice cream. About half of all items at grocery stores include palm oil, sometimes under a different name, according to C16 Biosciences Co-founder Shara Ticku.
The problem? Growing palm oil is a major cause of deforestation. It only grows close to the equator, and to keep up with demand growers cut down and burn tropical rainforests. This means carbon emissions and threats to biodiversity—tigers, elephants, orangutans, and rhinos have suffered loss of habitat to palm oil plantations, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Essentially, C16 is to palm oil what almond milk is to cow’s milk, Ticku explains. The synthetic substance isn’t palm oil, but it can function just like it, and serves as a sustainable alternative.
“We brew yeast, and we basically use yeast as factories to produce something that looks and functions just like palm oil,” she says. “It’s an oil produced from yeast fermentation that mimics the physical and chemical properties.”
Ticku was attending Harvard Business School when she went to a class at the MIT Media Lab called “Revolutionary Ventures.” The course helped her and her two co-founders conceive of C16. They were inspired by the success of Impossible Foods, which also utilizes synthetic biology in the name of sustainability.
C16—named for one of the main components of palm oil—plans to be in items on store shelves within a year and a half, according to Ticku.
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