Bio­engi­neered bac­te­ria is the key to clean hands. Who knew?

Motorcyclist - - Garage - —Ari Hen­ning

TWO THINGS I En­joy—wrench­ing and hav­ing clean hands—are at odds with each other. Lucky for me, Muck Daddy is around to act as con­cil­ia­tor. I’ve had this tub of clean­ing wipes in my shop for more than a year now, and in that time I’ve never feared a filthy chain or wanted for spot­less fin­gers.

I have tried plenty of orange-scented hand clean­ers and var­i­ous wipes, but th­ese Muck Daddy tow­els take the cake. Even the most stub­born grime is eas­ily wiped away, and there’s of­ten enough clean­ing ca­pa­bil­ity left over to swab down my tools and work­bench. I al­ways throw a few in a Zi­ploc bag when I head to the track, and un­like other clean­ers I’ve tried, Muck Daddy wipes don’t dry out my skin.

Cu­ri­ous to know why th­ese par­tic­u­lar wipes work so well, I made some phone calls and got con­nected with Derek Mcphee, se­nior tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor at Amyris Inc., Muck Daddy’s par­ent com­pany. “The wipes use hy­dro­genated far­ne­sene,” Mcphee says, “which is a nat­u­ral prod­uct found in ap­ple skins and other fruit skins.” Far­ne­sene is a pow­er­ful sol­vent and a pop­u­lar al­ter­na­tive to cit­rus-based limonene, which is fac­ing crit­i­cism and reg­u­la­tion due to its volatil­ity and sub­se­quent im­pact on air qual­ity. Here’s where things get in­ter­est­ing though: Rather than har­vest­ing far­ne­sene from plants, Amyris has found a way to coax sin­gle-cell bac­te­ria into pro­duc­ing it from sugar. “We’re a biotech com­pany that en­gi­neers mi­crobes,” Mcphee says. “That’s our core tech­nol­ogy.”

So what’s a biotech lab ad­ja­cent to Sil­i­con Val­ley do­ing mak­ing hand wipes for grease mon­keys? “We only made the hand clean­ers as a means to demon­strate far­ne­sene’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties to po­ten­tial clients,” Mcphee says. The bac­terium’s byprod­uct is al­ready used in truck and jet fuel, tires, cos­met­ics, and build­ing ma­te­ri­als, and Amyris is look­ing to find more out­lets for far­ne­sene. So far, sev­eral ma­jor auto-parts chains carry Muck Daddy wipes and hand soap, but no­body has ponied up to buy the brand out­right, which is what Amyris is wait­ing for.

Be­cause Amyris is a chem­i­cal whole­saler, Muck Daddy doesn’t have much of a web pres­ence, and track­ing down a tub of wipes lo­cally can take some do­ing. It’s worth it, how­ever, be­cause th­ese things work won­ders.

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