It became possible to design with synthetic biology using DNA codes for programming microbes of yeast. This technology inspired by renewable natural processes was developed by Ginkgo Bioworks’ scientists with MIT pickaback. This custom microbe programming opens the possibilities to make all kinds of products such as cosmetics, fragrances, food ingredients, sweeteners, medicines and even to grow electronics by replacing their DNA with the customised one.
The Boston-based spinoff company Ginkgo Bioworks was established in 2014 by the team of PhD students from Massachusetts Institute of Technology after receiving funding from YCombinator, Paul Graham’s business incubator for early-stage startups. Since then the company is valued at almost $1 billion. The origins of its creation are going back to 2009 when Professor Tom Knight, a pioneer in computer science and a former researcher in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory decided to hack biology, unifying the team of graduate students intra muros MIT. Throughout its duration the project was greatly supported by grants from DARPA, the Ministry of Energy and the other U.S . government sources. According to the recent estimates, Ginkgo Bioworks has secured $429 million from veteran investor YCombinator and other such as Viking Global, General Atlantic and Bill Gates’s Cascade Investment.
Ginkgo Bioworks is a synthetic biology company that uses software and hardware automation to design custom microbes for clients. Inside the innovative foundries with modern equipment the company engineers, manufactures, grows and programs microbes as the raw material for creating customised products using biology instead of technology. With the strong team of biological engineers, it became possible to program the biology through the DNA coding.
The team works at two foundries. The first foundry Bioworks 1 is an automation department that receives data from clients, creates the ideas and transfers the data to Bioworks 2 for testing and production. The second foundry makes trials, expands the possible applications and scales up the processes with special modern robotic equipment.
In this company hardware joints with biology producing new possibilities for humanity. The main idea is to think of biology as nanotechnology that actually works. Millions of complex processes happen in cells of the living things. That is not a secret that biology is self-replaceable and renewable. The team tries to use this knowledge to learn how to make such complex and renewable natural process on their own. The main goal of Ginkgo Bioworks is to make the renewable sources of nature using program codes. The team strongly believes and already has proven that biology is programmable.
While DNA and genetics became available and cheap, the Ginkgo Bioworks already able to write the code with DNA synthesis and sequencing. There is a digital code in the form of DNA at the heart of the microbes that are the part of fermentation processes. It is possible to read DNA and to write the code that means that is also possible to program.
The team applies such programs to make new products. The company already succeed in reprogramming microbes to produce artificial peach flavour for the fragrance company. During the process of making perfume composition, it was used genetically modified yeast. First, the team of biologists studies the genetic code of a peach and picks up the right one that is responsible for its smell among millions of gene sequences using the metabolism mapping. This map helps to find and more smartly to choose which genetic part have to be substituted. Then the peach DNA responsible for smell is compared with the yeast DNA which is then genetically modified by substituting yeast gene with the peach gene to produce the similar smelling substance. The next process looks like making beer where fermentative microbes are put in automation bioreactors to grow that makes fermentation more precise. The yeast with newly modified DNA grows and multiple producing peach scent as the final product. It is also possible to make the different combination of genes and a certain amount of slightly different smells.
The easy process of making a peach perfume with DNA yeast substation is only the beginning and it opens the huge possibilities for different applications. The researchers think that it will be possible to make the microbes with different smells to grow on the human body without a necessity to spray the perfume onto it. The body natural smells of the body already exist on a human body and are made by microbes so it will be only necessary to program that microbes to smell differently.
With the new technology of programming biology, it will be possible to make anything. According to the Ginkgo Bioworks starting from microbes for perfumes it will be possible to grow own electronics in future. Moreover, the biology has been always connected with the food industry. People always experimented with food and tried to create new flavours and new products. Learning more about engineering biology it will be possible to customise and create new flavours and foods.