Ginkgo Bioworks – Nanobots Are Finally Here
We recently wrote an article about how we need to redefine what “nanotechnology” means in the context of looking for “nanotech” companies to invest it. When you can use synthetic biology and gene editing to change the way that bacteria function by genetically modifying them, the result is microscopic biological machines. These tiny biological machines sound a whole lot like the nanobots that we were promised which would go around doing cool things without even being visible to the human eye. Earlier this year we profiled three companies that we claimed were working on building nanobot factories that create designer organisms on demand. Let’s take a closer look at one of these companies called Ginkgo Bioworks.
About Ginkgo Bioworks
Founded in 2008, Massachusetts based startup Ginkgo Bioworks has taken in a total of $154 million in funding so far with their latest $100 million Series C round closing in summer of this year. The company refers to themselves as “the organism company” and their value proposition has attracted investment from a whole slew of investors who realize the potential of developing new organisms that can replace technology with biology.
Update 09/19/19: Ginkgo Bioworks has raised $290 million in Series E funding to further develop their cell programming platform. This brings the company’s total funding to $719.1 million to date.
Update 05/29/20: Ginkgo Bioworks has raised $70 million in funding to build out DNA-based Covid-19 testing on a massive scale. This brings the company’s total funding to $789.1 million to date.
In their own words, Ginkgo Bioworks is doing “programming without a debugger, manufacturing without CAD, and construction without cranes” which requires a whole lot of intellectual firepower and maybe why they have 5 founders:
Remember that book by Eric Drexler called “Engines of Creation” which talked about little machines that self replicate and can be programmed to solve some of our biggest problems? Here’s an excerpt from the Ginkgo Bioworks homepage:
Nanoscale precision, continent scale production. Biology is the most advanced manufacturing technology on the planet. Self-assembling, self-replicating, and self-repairing, biology builds renewably – from the molecular machines inside of cells to global ecosystems.
We’ve heard that before. It’s what we are all excited about back in 2004 when George Dubyah Bush signed the Nanotechnology Research & Development Act and now it’s finally here.
In our last article on nanobot factory startups, we mentioned that Ginkgo had developed their first foundry to churn out engineered organisms called Bioworks1. Ginkgo Bioworks gives us an example called “Project Permian” where over the course of ten months, the Ginkgo team produced more than 1700 engineered organisms (nanobots), accounting for 2,400,000 base pairs of designed synthetic DNA. If you recall, Ginkgo had ordered a minimum of 100 million base pairs of synthesized DNA from Twist Bioscience an amount equal to 10% of the total DNA synthesis market in 2015. Now take a look at how fast they’ve managed to scale the number of operations they can perform per month:
Bioworks1 was unleashed in early 2015 and Ginkgo Bioworks is now currently running 15,000 automated operations per month, a more than ten-fold increase from pre-foundry levels. They now have 32 robots that are working with over 700 million base pairs of DNA. They are dissecting organisms and putting them back together to make biological nanobots that perform functions for their creator.
In one example, Ginkgo Bioworks created a cultured ingredient that used enzymes from a yeast, a fruit, and a mustard plant. They’re already working on Bioworks2 which promises a 6X improvement in throughput so they can do even more with their development partners who include Ajinomoto and Cargill, worldwide leaders in bioindustrial fermentation. The entire company is structured in a way similar to that of a software company:
In researching Ginkgo Bioworks for this article, we found a great deal of similarities with another startup called Zymergen which just closed $100 million last month and has taken in around the same amount of funding. There are an incredibly large number of optimizations that can take place for biological nanobots and both Ginkgo Bioworks and Zymergen could probably improve upon each other’s organisms which makes you wonder if/when someone won’t look to open source the whole thing to spur innovation. The truth is though that the visionary VCs behind these companies like Draper Fisher Jurvetson aren’t investing because they think that nanobots sound cool and they want to solve humanity’s greatest problems. VCs are backing these companies because there is an incredible amount of money to be made here. This is why the focus is on speed. A key performance indicator (KPI) that both companies use is how fast they can perform operations which equates to how fast they can engineer new biological nanobots.
We’re completely blown away when we read about startups like Ginkgo Bioworks and Zymergen because this is the idea we had in our minds of what nanotechnology can offer mankind. As retail investors, we can’t get exposures to these companies until they IPO or are acquired. However, the efficiencies being created by these designer organisms will ultimately benefit large chemical companies and consequently increase margins for consumers of those chemicals which translates to better earnings.
If you opened up the TechCrunch Sunday snapshot this morning, you were treated to 500 words of politically motivated drivel which has absolutely nothing to do with learning about new and exciting technologies. While we’re all sitting around slinging mud at each other after the dirtiest presidential election we’ve ever seen, technologies like synthetic biology and gene editing are heralding a new era of productivity that is everything we imagined and more. The fourth industrial revolution is here. And it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.
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