Ok, so the title might be a bit misleading as I’ve been covering agbiotech for more than a decade and synthetic biology companies focusing on chemicals application since 2007 such as Genomatica, Amyris, Codexis, etc. However, it seems there are more and more interests these days on genome engineering tools for chemicals production as DNA synthesis becomes cheaper and I’ve been hearing more venture firms and other investors looking into this field.
From what I understand based on talking to experts (and please correct me if I’m wrong), one of the recently talked about genome engineering tools is the use of CRISPR-Cas, where instead of inserting foreign DNA into microorganism, the microorganism’s own genetic code is being re-engineered to efficiently perform biochemical processes in locally controlled environments. Using this type of synthetic biology process avoids products being labeled as GMO.
CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats or a genome editing process that allows bacteria to acquire DNA from their surroundings and store it in a form of genomic memory. It is said to be a naturally-occurring, ancient defense mechanism found in a wide range of bacteria. Cas is a set of enzymes (CRISPR-associated proteins) that do the snipping and pasting of DNA/RNA. I found this video from MIT to be helpful in understanding what CRISPR-Cas9 is about.
Meanwhile, I’ve been seeing more press releases and new synthetic biology companies popping up on my radar this year such as the ff:
- Arzeda and Gen9 synthetic DNA supply agreement:
Gen9 and Arzeda announced an agreement for the supply of megabase quantities of synthetic DNA that will enable Arzeda to accelerate development of novel molecules for its own products as well as those of its partners. The collaboration is part of Gen9’s MAP program fueled by Gen9’s BioFab® DNA synthesis platform enabling the manufacture of mass quantities of high quality, long-length clonal DNA. Arzeda will utilize Gen9 synthetic DNA as part of its program to create a portfolio of enzymes and specialty chemicals for polymers, novel crop traits, pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals and other advanced materials.
- Amyris and Gen9 synthetic DNA supply agreement:
Gen9 and Amyris announced an agreement for the supply of multiple megabases of synthetic DNA content where Amyris will use it for their product pipelines such as plant-derived cosmetic ingredients, renewable lubricants, novel biopharmaceuticals, etc. The DNA synthesis throughput and current economics offered will enable the engineering and testing of new strains more effectively in order to identify the highest-performing microbes and allow to bring sustainable products to market more quickly.
- DuPont Pioneer unveiled first product developed through CRISPR-Cas:
DuPont Pioneer launched its new waxy corn hybrids as their first commercial agricultural product developed through the application of CRISPR-Cas, which has enabled advanced breeding platform to develop seed products for greater environmental resilience with characteristics resembling disease resistance and drought tolerance. Pioneer’s waxy corn produces high amylopectin starch content, which gets milled for numerous everyday consumer food and non-food uses that includes processed foods, adhesives and high-gloss paper. Last year, the blog reported DuPont’s announcement about its strategic alliance with California-based Caribou Biosciences on the cross-licensing and advancement of the two companies’ respective CRISPR-derived genome editing technology platforms.
- Mitsubishi Rayon and Arzeda industrial chemicals production collaboration:
Mitsubishi Rayon and Arzeda have collaborated on the development of new processes utilizing synthetic biology for producing a chemical building block with multiple applications. Arzeda will use its enzyme design platform Archytas, a proprietary industrial protein design software, while Mitsubishi Rayon will apply its expertise in process development and industrial scale-up. The companies did not disclose any specific building block targeted in this collaboration. Arzeda has also been collaborating with INVISTA on designing enzymes for the production of bio-butadiene, isoprene and other bio-derived chemicals. The blog has interviewed Arzeda at BIO World Congress in April where the company noted its development on bio-engineered strains for the production of animal feed product and an organic C5 platform chemicals. The company is also looking at molecules with higher value and complex chemistries.
- Ginkgo Bioworks, an organism design company based in Boston, announced at the BIO World Congress held in San Diego that it aims to expand its customer base in industrial enzymes and commodity chemicals as well as in specialty areas such as food, fragrance and consumer goods. The company recently hired several key personnel including a new chief commercialization officer early this summer to further Ginkgo’s strain engineering technology in real world commercial applications.
Other synthetic biology companies looking at chemical applications that have come under the blog’s radar especially from the recent BIO World Congress include the ff:
- Synthetic Genomics
- Modular Genetics
In an interview with IBioIC representative at BIO World Congress noted the flourishing synthetic biology industry in Scotland. IBioIC or the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre announced at the World Congress its offer of up to GBP 500,000 funding for UK and international industry-led collaborative synthetic biology projects that will demonstrate a defined market need and commercial opportunity within synthetic biology sector.
According to IBioIC, Scotland has the highest density of synthetic biology practitioners in the UK outside of London. IBioIC headquartered at the University of Strathclyde currently provides an interface between academia and industry for industrial biotechnology and synthetic biology. According to IBioIC, there are a number of large industrial end-users in Scotland and in the UK such as Thermo Fisher, GSK, Unilever, BASF, Ineos, Merck, Syngenta, etc., that keen to use and further develop synthetic biology tools. Three companies in Scotland that delivers services enabled by synthetic biology currently includes Ingenza, Synpromics, and Biotangents.
Universities that are currently offering relevant courses in recognition of the growing importance of synthetic biology includes the University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow, University of Strathclyde and University of St. Andrews. The Scottish Universities Life Sciences Alliance (SULSA), which is supported by Scottish Funding Council (SFC) reportedly plays a key role in linking education and training activities across six Scottish universities (Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, St. Andrews, and Strathyclyde). SULSA has established a synthetic and systems biology theme group to coordinate activities across universities and organizes a number of regular activities to engage academic researchers and industry.
According to the report below from IBioIC, synthetic biology market can be segmented into enabling tools (such as DNA cloning and sequencing), enabling products (such as novel genetic constructs and engineered microbes) and enabled such products such as biofuels. While enabled products are expected to retain the highest share of the market, the key growth area at present is in enabling product technologies, and this is an area that Scotland believes to have strong capabilities in.