There are two types of synthetic biology companies: those that provide synthetic oligos, genes, and software tools, and those that utilize synthetic biology to carry out their various goals (pharmaceuticals, bio fuels, therapeutic treatments, etc).
Before I launch into this, it’s important to note that the commercial world of synthetic biology is still nascent. While the first commercial synthetic biology product happened decades ago, it’s really the recent advances in DNA sequencing, DNA synthesis, and advances in precision in genetic engineering (from CRISPR advances) that have accelerated this industry.
Top Synthetic Biology Companies in Production
In January 2016, Allied Market Research, a research firm that creates industry analysis and outlooks for things like the oil market, outdoor advertising, etc has produced a Synthetic Biology Industry Reports. In this report, Allied Market Research analyzed the synthetic biology industry including things like the market demand for synthetic oligos, genes, and even software tools.
The bad news is that this report cost $4,000+ USD. As much as I love this website, I’m not springing for that. Sorry friends. The good news, however, is that to answer the question of who the top synthetic biology companies are, we likely don’t need to. Allied Market Research has a very thorough table of contents that breaks down each of the major players currently in the field. Below is a run down of those synthetic biology companies and a brief bit about the projects the work on.
- Gen9 Inc.
- Codexis Inc.
- Origene Technologies, Inc.
- Synthetic Genomics, Inc.
- Thermo Fisher Scientific
- GENEWIZ, Inc.
- Eurofins Scientific, Inc.
- Integrated DNA Technologies, Inc.
- DNA2.0 Inc.
- Pareto Biotechnologies
- Synthorx, Inc.
- TeslaGen Biotechnology
- Editas Medicine, Inc.
- Genscript Corporation
- Twist Bioscience
- GeneWorks Pty Ltd.
- Proterro, Inc
- Blue Heron (OriGene Technologies Inc.)
Synthetic Biology Companies (technology users)
Ginko Bioworks is first on my list. They earned this honor by being the first synthetic biology company I’d seen on the morning news and because they ate the first company on this list (Gen9 Inc). Ginko Bioworks refers to themselves as “an organism design company” and of their employees as “organism engineers.” In a recent interview, the CEO stated that they serve other companies who are looking to leverage nature and the engineering of nature to produce a better product more efficiently. He gave an example of taking the gene from roses that produces the scent of rose and engineering it into baker’s yeast. The yeast will then produce the oil that gives the scent of a rose. He cited a 50% reduction in cost in producing rose oil in this way over the traditional means of extracting rose oils (which is to grow the plant, harvest the rose petals and press them for their oil. Ginko Bioworks recently made number 7 on CNN’s 2016 disruptor list.
If Codex Inc. were to give you an elevator pitch, it wouldn’t take 30 seconds. It wouldn’t take a half a floor. Codex Inc. can do it in seven words: “engineers enzymes for pharmaceutical and chemical production.” The cool thing about Codex (or at least the headline grabbing feature) is that they use a sort of directed evolution. Basically, they speed up the process of evolution by controlling the environment of the organisms they work with and applying evolutionary pressures by design.
Like Ginko Bioworks, Codex Inc. uses single cell organisms including yeast, but they do so more traditional uses: pharmaceuticals and biofuels. They focus on enzyme production and protein design and their website is information rich and includes a video library for people like me who want things fast (why the hell do I even write articles? They’re nowhere near as fast as a video). They’re a publicly traded company, so you can check out financials, listen to calls about products and the market in general. Stock ticker is CDXS.
Origene Inc. has been kicking around since the 90’s and their website got left behind somewhere in the mid 2000’s. While their website touts “OriGene’s vision is to prepare comprehensive, genome wide research tools and technology platforms to enable scientists to study complete biological pathways,” they appear to be fairly diversified or distracted, depending on how positively you want to view the variety of their options. Their CRISPR/Cas9 offerings and their products regarding knock-out models are a few of the limited reasons they’re on this list. I point this out simply because many of their other offerings wouldn’t really merit their inclusion in a list on synthetic biology companies.
Synthetic Genomics, Inc.
Scroll through Synthetic Genomic Inc’s website and by the time you reach the bottom of the page, they’ll have pitched themselves as the solution to diseases, food shortages, and fuel problems, making them sound like an ostentatious combination of Mother Teresa and Bill Gates. I’m not one to deride ambition, but if they want to solve the world’s problems, they may also want to take a look at their less than stellar GlassDoor reviews. Can’t solve the world’s problems if you can’t attract the world’s talent, that’s all I’m saying.
Still, if synthetic biology companies are what you’re looking for, you’ve found one. (Heck, it’s in their name). Their product/expertise touts mamalian cell engineering, virus engineering, synthetic DNA construction from the bottom up, etc. They’re partnered with some pretty big names, including United Therapeutics where they are looking to accomplish xenotransplantation, essentially harvesting the organs of pigs for use in humans. If this sounds familiar, it was referenced in our Ghost Heart project where you can take the first steps of harvesting organs on your own. Sounds sketchier than it is.
Thermo Fisher Scientific
Let’s face it, Thermo Fisher Scientific is a bohemoth. Who would be surprised they have their fingers in the synthetic biology pie (sounds unappetizing). Thermo Fisher offers themselves as an outsourcing resource for companies trying to do any part of synthetic biology from the identification of genes to the implementation of a synthetic system. They break it down in a nice workflow so you can see at what point of your product development you may want a hand. As I’ve kept my eye out, I’ve seen a few postings for synthetic biologists at Thermo Fisher, and to be honest, they’re one of the only companies that come up under such a search (which is partially why I created this page in the first place. If you want to work for a synthetic biology company, you better know who they are and follow their careers pages for job postings).
I’ll leave you to learn a bit more about them, but I will say this on the way out: they have a page dedicated toward helping people understand synthetic biology and it links to several of their resources that cover the hard applications down to synthetic biology art.
GENEWIZ Inc. features synthetic biology prominently on their homepage. Their applications reach into gene synthesis, agriculture, immunology, biomarkers, etc. As a company, however, it’s not their primary bread. On many pages you’ll see reference to their next generation genome sequencing more often than some of their engineering products. That being said, synthetic biology is not an afterthought for this company. Check out their page dedicated to its applications and their research regarding it.
Eurofins Scientific, Inc.
Unless you’re up for a treasure hunt, you won’t find much on Erofin Scientific Inc.’s synthetic biology. My research will usually look a bit like this: browse the company’s website first, then use their search function, then use search operators in Google, and if all else fails, look to news articles or Wikipedia. I found some material on these guys in a PDF on their site, but any mention of this being a synthetic biology company might be a bit overblown because it looks to me like the extent of their synbio is simply gene synthesis. It’s moments like these when I wish I had the &$#! report to look through.
Integrated DNA Technologies, Inc.
One of the few companies I’ve seen that specifically mentions different CRISPR systems other than CRISPR/Cas9. Remember, CRISPR is basically a bacteria’s rudimentary immune system against viruses that attack them. Once we figured out what CRISPR was, we started to find it in a lot of different bacteria. The CRISPR/Cas9 complex is just one of them (the first). On top of CRISPR services, they offer what is now looking to be a somewhat typical array for companies that are making this list: gene synthesis, next gen sequencing, etc.
Listed as DNA2.0 Inc. but now known as Atum (shame cuz their first name was pretty cool and self explanatory), these guys win a prize for being a bit more deserving than some of the others on this list of being called a synthetic biology company. Their services include gene optimization (not just synthesis), which involves testing in the host system and application of their own special sauce algorithm (many companies use algorithms in processes like these, but Atum insists “not all codon optimization algorithms are created equal.”
Aaaand with that, we’re taking a breather. Even a bit of colorful language and a casual voice can’t compensate for a 1500 word page that reviews company profiles. Come back for part two when I get my second wind.