Biotech startup Gingko Bioworks announced on June 8th that it had just raised $100 million from investors to buy an enormous amount of synthetic DNA. The Boston-based firm, which launched less than two years ago, currently makes products for the flavor, fragrance, and food industries. It also works with DARPA to produce probiotics that will help U.S. soldiers stave off stomach bugs they might pick up overseas. But last year the startup began looking at potential expansions to other industries, and now it is proceeding full steam ahead. This new infusion of investments is nearly twice what it had racked up before, bringing its total funding to $154 million.
“We’re the organism company,” said Jason Kelly, Ginkgo’s CEO. “Our view is that biology is a uniquely powerful technology in manufacturing. At the end of the day, as a society, we need to stop manufacturing everything and grow everything.” He added that living cells are far more efficient at using energy than man-made manufacturing processes. So Ginkgo looks for similar genes used by bacteria or yeast all over the world, then has two synthetic DNA firms print them up, and tests the resulting organisms to see which will grow best in its manufacturing environments.
The startup now intends to use the 600,000 genes worth of material it is purchasing (equivalent to 60% of all synthetic DNA sold worldwide last year) in new areas such as “commodity chemicals, industrial enzymes, and human health markets.” The price of this raw genetic material has been plummeting, making it easier to engineer microbes like bacteria and yeast.
Microbial manufacturing is promising, but it’s not the only innovative approach out there. As Blouin News reported last month, the 3D printing industry is expected is reach $120 billion worldwide by 2020. However it ultimately plays out, Gingko will play a pioneering role in shaping commercial biotech’s future.