Twist Bioscience: Manufacturing Synthetic DNA
DNA is often thought of as your unique signature, like your fingerprint but on a whole different level. Mainstream crime shows have all but popularized DNA, mainly in the context of identification such as “we found your DNA all over the scene“. While 99.9% of your DNA is the same as every other human, the .01% that is different is unique to you, and is the recipe for the creation of your entire body. An incredible amount of information is stored in a full DNA strand which is called a “genome”. All of the information stored in a genome would take 3 gigabytes to store or roughly 200 telephone books of 1,000 pages each.
When we talk about “sequencing a genome”, we’re simply saying we want to read every single piece of information in the entire DNA strand. Certain sequences that we find in DNA strands can tell us things, and we can examine these as a “snippet” which we also refer to as a “gene”. You can then take a “snippet” of DNA and replace it with your own “snippet”. That’s what gene editing is all about. You can also create your own DNA snippets, and then sell them. That’s exactly what a company called Twist Bioscience is doing.
Founded in 2013, San Francisco based Twist Biosciences has taken in $133 million in funding so far from investors like Fidelity, Arch Venture Partners, and Illumina (NASDAQ:ILMN). Their most recent Series D funding round of $61 million closed just last week. Twist is a new type of futuristic manufacturing company that produces synthetic DNA on demand. Assembling DNA used to be a very labor-intensive and painstaking process that required trained personnel, took a long time, and was subject to human error. Twist Bioscience solved the problem by utilizing a platform for high-density synthesis of genes on silicon wafers. Using this technology, they can assemble synthetic genes to order right on silicon in an automated fashion. In 2015, the Company began production runs for select customers and in 2016 they will execute on a full commercial launch. To date, they have shipped 65 million base pairs of DNA to more than 100 customers.
A company called Ginkgo Bioworks, an organism design company, has already ordered a minimum of 100 million base pairs of synthesized DNA from Twist (a quantity equal to ten per cent of the total DNA synthesis market in 2015) so they can use them to create made-to-order industrial microbes. Need a yeast that can produce a particular pharmaceutical compound? No problem. Ginkgo will get right on that and when they’ve created the gene needed, Twist Bioscience will then manufacture thousands of them for you. In addition to just creating synthetic DNA for customers, Twist is also exploring other exciting applications in synthetic DNA:
One such application is using DNA for data storage. Last year, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) announced plans to store long-term data as DNA, the main selling point being that DNA doesn’t degrade for centuries. The storage capacity of DNA is so powerful that all the data in the world could be stored in a volume of less than 3 gallons.
Companies like Twist Bioscience are what we envisioned a future enabled by nanotechnology would look like. They are a manufacturing company that creates DNA which is used to create artificial life forms that do cool stuff; like algae that sweats jet fuel. With a massive Series D funding round closed, Twist may have enough capital to get them through to a liquidity event, which hopefully will be an IPO.