Palm oil alternative start-ups face similar challenges to the sustainable synthetic biology sphere

James Dinneen (whose byline you may recognize from a recent Counter feature on the future of the ancient Solanum jamesii potato) reports on the emergence of palm oil alternatives for Mother Jones. Palm oil production is notorious for causing significant global deforestation in tropical regions and has long been tied to exploitative labor practices. Now, biotech startups are working to manufacture microbial yeast oils using carbon captured from the atmosphere. It’s a tricky venture, financially speaking: Palm oil isn’t just the world’s most widely used vegetable oil. It’s also the cheapest. To be economically viable, some experts believe microbial alternatives would also need to be joined with regulatory policies phasing out unsustainably produced palm oil. Of course, financial feasibility isn’t a concern just for companies in the “pretend palm oil race.” Countless other synthetic biology companies, including lab-grown meat producers, are grappling with similar obstacles. Alex Hinton