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Ginkgo Bioworks - Partner of Bayer, Corteva, Sumitomo, one of the most successful synthetic biology companiesqrcode

May. 24, 2022

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May. 24, 2022

A recent AgroPages report on Ginkgo Bioworks, a biotechnical company that is a close partner of Bayer, has attracted the widespread attention of many cutting-edge technology observers within the industry. Ginkgo Bioworks is a synthetic biology-oriented company that uses cells as a “micro factory” to develop products required by a broad range of industry sectors. Over recent years, synthetic biology has been a hot target of venture capital investment companies. Ginkgo Bioworks, which started in 2008 at the MIT Lab, is one of the most successful companies in this field. It has, therefore, been favored by agricultural industry players, including multinationals, such as Bayer, Corteva and Sumitomo, with whom Ginkgo Bioworks has established partnerships. 


In May 2021, Ginkgo Bioworks went public through a SPAC transaction with blank check company Soaring Eagle Acquisition Corporation in September 2021, being valued at $17.5 billion. Its successful listing on the New York Stock Exchange in September 2021 created the largest biotechnical listing ever in history. However, the company’s technical input and production output have been continually questioned. To this end, we have compiled reports and information to present Ginkgo Bioworks and what it does.



The “Fortune Code” of Ginkgo Bioworks


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Synthetic biology refers to the design and structuring of new biological components, devices and systems according to regular rules and the known knowledge, or the redesign of existing natural biological systems to serve the special requirements of human beings. This discipline is creating a new biological era for understanding and modifying genetic materials. 


Ginkgo Bioworks positions itself as an organism designer that offers tailored services to customers through developing a very advanced software system. The system can mimic metabolic pathways in cells to design and predict the interactions between genetic modification and cellular metabolic pathway. 


After the design of the metabolic pathway, Ginkgo Bioworks collaborates with DNA synthesis companies to synthesize specific DNA fragments as required, which are then inserted to yeast or other microbial genomes. After successful pilot trials, Ginkgo Bioworks delivers the genetically engineered cells to customers, and will, thereafter, produce, via fermentation, products required by customers. Ginkgo Bioworks said that currently, it can manufacture 50,000 different genetically modified cells per day. 


By redesigning metabolic pathways, Ginkgo Bioworks is capable of providing specific raw materials to industries, such as spices, sweeteners and proteins for food and beverage companies, as well as probiotics for pharmaceutical companies, “natural pesticides” for agricultural companies, and engineered bacteria for energy companies for absorbing CO2 in fixed air.


Ginkgo Bioworks does not produce terminal products itself, but it instead provides customers with microbial design services, covering a wide range of applications, from fine chemicals to agricultural and medical products with broad application scenarios. 


Building a synthetic biology ecosphere 


Over the past few years, through resource consolidation and expansion, Ginkgo Bioworks gradually extended its business to upstream industries, having established a synthetic biology ecosphere to provide customers with efficient and inexpensive services. 


In June 2016, Ginkgo Bioworks and Amyris Inc. formed partnership. Amyris uses engineered yeast and other “live factory” to convert botanical sugar into small molecule hydrocarbon for customers to use in manufacturing cosmetics, fragrances, flavors, detergents and lubricants. Amyris has a plant in Brazil with a fermentation capacity of 1.2 million liters. Based on the partnership, Ginkgo Bioworks is able to leverage Amyris’ capacity to scale up the achievements of the labs.


In September 2016, Ginkgo Bioworks began cooperating with Genomatica, whose core business is developing and authorizing the use of biological pathways to supersede chemical pathways for the synthesis of chemicals with a wide range of applications.


In January 2017, Ginkgo Bioworks acquired Gen9, a leading company in the field of DNA synthesis, enabling it to become the world’s largest DNA design and synthesis company. 


In May 2019, Ginkgo Bioworks acquired Warp Drive Bio, a subsidiary of Revolution Medicines, which is a genome mining platform. 


In December 2020, Ginkgo Bioworks acquired the emerging biotech company, Novogy, having consolidated Novogy’s strain assets, intellectual property rights and databases with its bioengineering platform.


In February 2022, Ginkgo Bioworks announced the acquisition of the Swiss company, FGen AG, which specializes in development and optimization of strains. The integration with the FGen platform will greatly improve the capability of Ginkgo’s Design-Build-Test-Learn strain development engine. 


Cooperation with agricultural multinationals


Currently, Ginkgo Bioworks is involved in the fields of agriculture, food, medicine, and environmental protection. Companies from across a broad range of industries have attempted to use Ginkgo’s cell programming platform to seek better and more sustainable approaches to production. In the agricultural field, major multinationals are leading the way in technical development and are exploring possibilities of cross-sector collaboration. 


- Joyn Bio, co-founded in cooperation with Bayer, focuses on microbial nitrogen fixation.


Ginkgo Bioworks has a close and in-depth relationship with Bayer. 


In September 2017, Ginkgo Bioworks and Bayer made a joint investment of $100 million in a launch of an independently operational subsidiary, Joyn Bio, which focuses on microbial nitrogen fixation, reducing the environmental effects of agriculture, particularly from chemical fertilizers. Joyn Bio uses the high-throughput analytical technique of the Foundry of Ginkgo Bioworks to characterize Bayer’s more than 100,000 patented strains. The bioinformatic data generated using the advanced software of the Foundry in unprecedented volumes provide Joyn Bio with necessary conditions to identify strains and characteristics. 


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Joyn Bio’s design of the metabolic pathway of nitrogen-fixing microorganisms can fix nitrogen while enabling the colonization of specific crops. These microorganisms are developed into seed coatings, which, after being sown, form a symbiotic relationship with crops, providing nutrients and reducing or even totally replacing nitrogen fertilizers. 


Since then, the cooperation between Ginkgo Bioworks and Bayer has been growing and developing. Recently, the two sides have made a strategic adjustment to their cooperation, with Ginkgo Bioworks acquiring Bayer’s West Sacramento R&D platform, an in-house discovery and advanced optimization platform, while Bayer would obtain the nitrogen fixation technology of Joyn Bio.


The R&D platform of Joyn Bio is intended to join forces with Ginkgo Bioworks, along with the West Sacramento R&D platform through this transaction, to be integrated with Bayer’s proven biologics development and optimization platform, to ensure the future discovery and development of biologicals and facilitate work on sustainable breakthrough technologies for agriculture.


Ginkgo Bioworks will become Bayer’s multi-year microbial strategic partner in developing biological solutions for nitrogen optimization, carbon sequestration and next-generation crop protection.


- Cooperating with Corteva and Sumitomo to improve product development conception and efficiency.


Ginkgo Bioworks is cooperating in a same model with two other agrochemical giants, Corteva Agriscience and Sumitomo Chemical. Both agrochemical companies hope their cooperation will combine Ginkgo’s high-throughput cell engineering platform with the deep knowledge of natural product discovery and agricultural expertise of agrochemical companies, to screen and design environment-friendly plant protection products. 


In April 2021, Ginkgo Bioworks announced a partnership with Corteva Agriscience in developing new plant protection technologies using synthetic biology, to combat invasive insects and evolving resistant pests. 


In June 2021, Ginkgo Bioworks announced an R&D collaboration with Sumitomo Chemical, which will leverage Ginkgo’s long-established expertise in organism engineering, to significantly increase the production efficiency and sustainability of key bio-based commercial products.

 

Sumitomo Chemical is one of the multinationals that initially advocated for pollution-free products, which are products or substances of lower environmental impact that usually originate or are derived from nature. The company has chosen to leverage Ginkgo’s extensive cell programming platform, biological codebase and fermentation capacity to offer new-generation and more sustainable bio-based products with higher production efficiency.



“Accused” by short-seller in a nearly 200-page report


Ginkgo Bioworks’ founder and CEO, Jason Kelly, expected to make the company a “Microsoft, Intel or Amazon of the biological industry.” However, there has been no market release of synthetic biological products via its own research and development efforts since its founding, so Ginkgo Bioworks has been questioned by some industry players. Some even argue that Ginkgo Bioworks is a company with low scientific achievements and minimum revenue, but is known for its publicity and large debts. 


In October 2021, the short-seller, Scorpion Capital, released a 175-page report accusing Ginkgo Bioworks of various shortcomings, calling the company a “colossal scam” and a “Frankenstein mash-up of the worst frauds of the last 20 years.” In the report, the short seller mentioned the company’s shortcomings, most notably its project failure rate of more than 90% and the lack of a release of a representative product to date. The short seller argues that Ginkgo Bioworks is hiding its true dependence on Foundry revenues from related parties, indicating that almost all its product revenues come from related parties. 


In response, Kelly said that Ginkgo Bioworks is not a product company, nor does it want to be a product company and would not bet on any products, which is exactly its business strategy. Ginkgo Bioworks is a platform that provides customers with programmed cells to gain profit through royalties or equity shares, just like a mobile app store, but with different apps. 


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Jason Kelly, founder and CEO of Ginkgo Bioworks


Reshaping agriculture?


While Ginkgo Bioworks has been working with Bayer, Corteva and Sumitomo for some years, it has jot released any commercial products. However, it is noted that the science and technology in synthetic biology are increasingly turning seemingly impossible technical achievements into commercial products. In fact, there its is now claimed that synthetic biology will help reshape agriculture in the same scale as what GMO has done over the past decades, while tech companies involved in synthetic biology will gain increased attention. It is a brand-new and fast-growing racing track with unlimited potentials, which may facilitate the achievement of the real sustainable development of agriculture. 


Source: AgroNews

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