Can Joyn Bio’s genetically engineered microbes replace chemical fertilizers?

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Image credit: Bayer

Big Ag is addicted to nitrogen fertilizers. It’s a massive problem for the global climate, yet it may yield to a microscopic solution: microbes rewired to “fix” nitrogen from the air and turn it into a natural type of fertilizer that corn, wheat, and other cereal crops can use.

Enter Joyn Bio, a Boston-based spinoff launched last September from two companies: Bayer CropScience, which boasts a vast library of agricultural microbes, and Ginkgo Bioworks, a pioneering biotech firm that creates custom-made bacteria for industrial applications.

Ginkgo’s Boston research hub is home to an assembly line of robots that are programmed to manufacture, read, or edit strands of DNA. Joyn’s idea is to synthesize variations on some of the genes that are believed to play a role in nitrogen fixation, including those involved in the cooperation between legumes and the bacteria specific to their root systems. Snippets of this synthetic DNA are then slotted by machines into microbes growing in rows of tiny fermentation chambers, before another set of automated tools characterizes the genetically altered microbes’ performance every which way. Synthesize, build, test, repeat.

Joyn is hoping this engineering approach to the fertilizer-replacement challenge—combined with computational power to integrate terabytes of data into predictive metabolic models—will make the company succeed where others have failed.

Read full, original post: Bioengineers Aim to Break Big Ag’s Addiction to Fertilizers

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