UMass Amherst and Canadian Firm Announce Creation of University Spin-Off Company

AMHERST, Mass. - Years of research by a University of Massachusetts food scientist concerning plant extracts that could be used for disease prevention and as natural food preservatives has led to the creation of a new University spin-off company.

The company, PhytoBioSystems (PBS), is a subsidiary of Parsons Seeds Lt d., of Ontario, Canada. The new firm will be located in the Amherst/Hadley area and is expected to begin operations this summer. The company will initially employ three people full-time, and four or five others part-time, with additional staff to be hired in the future.

The agreement to establish the company was announced today by E. Bradley Moynahan, assistant vice chancellor and director of the Amherst campus’s Office of Commercial Ventures and Intellectual Property (CVIP); Robert Thom, president of Parsons Seeds; Laima Kott, chief plant breeding consultant for Parsons Seeds; and Kalidas Shetty, assistant professor of food science, whose research serves as the basis for the new company.

Shetty’s work involves the study of phenolic pathways in plants. These are the complex sequences of biochemical reactions by which plants produce certain chemicals known as nutraceuticals, which help the body resist disease and help food to last longer. His studies have concentrated primarily on the mint family of plants, including rosemary, sage, and oregano, which produce rosmarinic acid, a known antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound.

"We are excited about Professor Shetty’s research and are looking for commercial opportunities world-wide," says Thom, Parsons president.

"The purpose of my work has always been to see the practical application of basic research for human benefit, and I am very gratified that will now become possible through PhytoBioSystems and the University’s support for such spin-offs," Shetty says.

Said Moynahan: "This new company really embodies the mission of the University and the department of food science; it uses research to meet society’s needs and at the same time contributes to the economic development of the region. It also will provide a source of support for Professor Shetty’s research for the next five years." The company is the first University spin-off established through CVIP in the Amherst/Hadley area.

Robert Helgesen, dean of the College of Food and Natural Resources, says, "This is a perfect example of how the College can contribute through research and outreach to economic development. Professor Shetty’s work further illustrates how the University, through its research base, adds value to the classroom and the economy of the commonwealth."

"The development of PhytoBioSystems represents a combination of an outstanding level of sophisticated science, a lifelong dedication to the use of science to help humankind, and an incredible level of hard work by Professor Shetty," says Fergus Clydesdale, head of the department of food science. "His achievement represents a complete integration of research, teaching, and outreach, and positions the University for great strides in all these areas. We are most fortunate to have a dedicated scientist like Professor Shetty as part of our faculty."

According to Moynahan, under the terms of the agreement with Parsons Seeds, the company will hold the license to manufacture, market, and sell products resulting from patented research and technology developed by Shetty at UMass. In turn, the University will collect royalties on the use of the patents, and hold equity in the new company.

Shetty, who is a strong proponent of increasing teacher-training, says, "I would like to see the University use resources generated through outreach programs such as this one to help teaching programs such as those offered through the Center for Teaching."

PhytoBioSystems will cultivate elite plant clonal lines selected through tissue culture for the production of seeds for plants high in the natural extracts that can be used in food preservation and disease prevention. The selection process using tissue culture is based on the understanding of biochemical pathways, Shetty explains, and does not involve genetically modifying the plants themselves. Tissue culture-based clonal propagation of plants for scientific purposes, he says, has been occurring since 1953.

"In our case, we have developed novel strategies based on plant biochemistry and microbial interaction (plant’s response to microbes) to select elite lines through tissue culture," Shetty says.

Shetty joined the faculty of the department of food science at the University in 1993. He received his undergraduate degree in agricultural microbiology from the University of Agricultural Sciences in Bangalore, India, and his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in microbiology from the University of Idaho. He did postdoctoral research in plant cell and molecular biology in Japan and Canada.

Shetty praised the University, in particular Moynahan, Helgesen, and Clydesdale, for their support and guidance in fostering his efforts to make his research the foundation for the new spin-off company.