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Biological Chemistry

Outsourcing flourishes for synthetic biology firms

Ginkgo Bioworks, Amryis partner with firms that supply millions of DNA base pairs

by Melody M. Bomgardner
June 9, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 24

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Credit: Laura Kudritzki Photography
Twist Bioscience’s silicon plate contains 10,000 wells, each 600 μm in diameter.
Credit: Laura Kudritzki Photography
Twist Bioscience’s silicon plate contains 10,000 wells, each 600 μm in diameter.

Ginkgo Bioworks and Amyris develop modified organisms that produce valuable chemicals. Now, both are choosing to outsource one step of the synthetic biology to-do list: manufacturing new DNA sequences. For that, Ginkgo and Amyris have inked new deals with Twist Bioscience and Gen9, firms that specialize in automating the production of millions of base pairs.

Ginkgo develops modified microbes on a contract basis for companies in the flavor, fragrance, and cosmetics industries. For example, it is working on a fermentation route to rose oil. It will tap Twist to source 300 million DNA base pairs—up from its first order of 100 million—and Gen9 for another 300 million.

Last week, Ginkgo also announced it has raised $100 million in venture funding. The money will go not just to Twist and Gen9, but also to building Ginkgo’s new organism engineering facility.

“We’re the world’s largest consumer of synthetic genes,” Jason Kelly, Ginkgo’s chief executive officer, tells C&EN. Kelly explains that Ginkgo uses gene sequencing to “read” the DNA of targeted species. Its scientists can use that information to learn how a rose petal makes rose oil.

The scientists then use computers to design a version of the rose oil gene that can work inside a microbe. Ginkgo places an order with Twist with instructions on what genes to create, or “write.” Ginkgo then inserts the new custom-made synthetic pathway into microbes and tests them to see if they efficiently produce rose oil.

For its part, Twist focuses on increasing the speed and throughput of synthetic gene manufacturing while decreasing costs. Instead of using a standard 96-well plate to make a single gene, Twist has developed a plate with 10,000 nanowells, each of which can make a gene.

In a similar deal, biobased chemicals producer Amyris—a company that pioneered synthetic biology with its fermentation route for the malaria drug artemisinin—says it will buy DNA base pairs from Gen9, another gene synthesis firm.

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