Boston-based Ginkgo BioWorks Opens World’s Largest Biotech Foundry to Increase Production Capacity

Boston-based Gingko Bioworks Opens World’s Largest Biotech Foundry to Increase Production Capacity September 29, 2016
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

BOSTON – With home-brewed beer using yeast strains created in-house, Ginkgo BioWorks celebrates the opening of the world’s largest biotech foundry—Bioworks2, a 18,000 square foot facility that will allow the company to test and design microorganisms to meet the needs of their clients.

The new foundry will enable Ginkgo Bioworks to have the scale to build the products its customers need. Ginkgo Bioworks delivers designer organisms for its clients, using engineered microbes to manufacture cultured ingredients such as flavors, fragrances, cosmetics and sweeteners. Bioworks1 already uses proprietary software and robotics to streamline the design, construction and testing of engineered organisms.

The new facility is a major upgrade over its current foundry Bioworks1—one that will allow greater capacity and an integration of technology, Christina Agapakis, Ginkgo’s creative director said in an interview with BioSpace.

As part of the celebration for Bioworks2, the company and guests of the ribbon-cutting will be able to indulge in home-brewed beer that some of Ginkgo’s employees, including Agapakis, made at their homes.

Agapakis said the new foundry will provide the company with “more room to breathe.” She said the current foundry felt spacious several years ago, but with the company’s ever-expanding work, the facility had become too small as they added new technologies and robotics.

“We’re going to have a lot more breathing room and capacity,” Agapakis said.

But perhaps more important than the breathing room is the increased capacity to test thousands of versions of a custom organisms at once. Agapakis said this capacity will allow Gingko to manufacture a greater number of microorganisms for their clients in a shorter amount of time—something that will save clients money and allow them to get their products to market faster. Ginkgo’s Bioworks2 site will have the capability of testing 100 million base pairs of designed DNA per year.

“It’s 10 times the scale of what we can do now and we expect that to grow exponentially,” Agapakis said. “With automation tools, we can design 10,000 variants that will allow us to see what is possible. It gives us more shots on goal.”

Earlier this year, Ginkgo inked partnership deals with synthetic DNA providers Twist Biosciences and Gen9 for 600 million base pairs of manufactured DNA—the largest supply of DNA ever purchased. The synthetic DNA is the raw material for Ginkgo's biological prototypes, and will be used to generate genetic designs that will be built and tested in Ginkgo's new foundry, Bioworks2. Agapakis said 60 million base pairs will give one an idea of the scale Ginkgo is capable of and added the company has plans to do even more.

“To me, the way to think about it, this makes the promise of DNA sequencing real,” she said.

As Ginkgo Bioworks’ DNA sequencing capacity has grown, so has the company’s team. Last year, the company had 25 employees and now they have expanded to 114 employees. Agapakis said the company is likely to keep growing, especially now that the new foundry has opened. She said the company has plans for building foundries up to Bioworks 5 over the next several years, which would expand the company with about an additional 100,000 square feet of space.

Part of what is fueling the growth at Ginkgo is the combined deals the company has made this year, including partnerships with companies like Cargill, to explore strain improvements that will optimize Cargill’s bioindustrial fermentations, and ADM, a provider of food ingredients, who teamed with Ginkgo to develop custom strains of microorganisms for cultured ingredients. Ginkgo also struck a deal with Amyrisis, Inc. to accelerate time to market for cultured ingredients in flavor and fragrance, cosmetics, and nutrition. With the opening of BIoworks2, Ginkgo announced a new deal with Genomatica to develop chemicals.

Agapakis described the culture at Ginkgo as a place where there is a lot of passion. She said people are “really excited about biology, what people are working on and being part of the team.”

“We have a phenomenal team thinking about what it is we’re going to do and building new projects… … it drives where we see things in five years. We need to be ready with the tools to take advantage of the scale of DNA synthesis,” Agapakis said. “We see things with complexity coming down the line that just can’t be done right now.”

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