For centuries, humans have used yeast to make beer and bread. Now, a startup is using it to engineer designer fragrances, cosmetics, pesticides, and biofuels.
A self-described “organism design firm,” Boston’s Ginkgo Bioworks is one of several companies in the emerging field known as synthetic biology. That’s a loose term for a collection of genetic-engineering techniques that alter the DNA of existing organisms to create new ones from scratch.
Ginkgo’s process begins when a client wants to tweak an existing product — like emphasize a certain note in a scent and downplay another. Ginkgo engineers then figure out which genes in the original product are likely to produce the desired results when changed.
After devising a genetic sequence that includes those changes, the company buys DNA fragments from outside suppliers. Its robots stitch those genes together into the much longer, desired sequence, and the experimentation continues.
Ginkgo ultimately transfers these genes into yeast and sells the yeast to clients, who use it to make their products the same way breweries brew beer.
The company hasn’t revealed the details for most of them, but they include flavors and fragrances that evoke peaches, grapes, mushrooms, and fresh-cut grass; sweeteners for a major beverage company; and a “natural pesticide” for agriculture. Ginkgo is also engineering probiotic bacteria to treat antibiotic-resistant germs.
But these kinds of products draw concerns, largely from critics who also oppose the use of genetically modified organisms. Laws regulating the use and labeling of genetically modified organisms don’t apply to fermented ingredients, because the organisms used to make them aren’t in the final products.
Read full, original article: This Startup Is Designing Yeast To Make Brand-New Scents, Flavors