January 23, 2017

Organism Company Ginkgo Bioworks Acquires Synthetic DNA Supplier Gen9

Ginkgo Bioworks
Ginkgo Bioworks was founded by world-renowned computer scientist Tom Knight (center) along with MIT biological engineering PhDs Austin Che, Reshma Shetty, Jason Kelly, and Barry Canton (left to right).

Ginkgo Bioworks, a microorganism design company, has announced today that it has acquired Gen9, one of the leading providers of synthetic DNA. With Gen9’s uniquely efficient DNA synthesis platform in Ginkgo’s tool belt, the self-branded “organism company” will undoubtedly be expanding its capacity to rapidly design and prototype microbes for a variety of customers in the bio-based chemicals market and beyond.

Kevin Munnelly, President and CEO of Gen9, commented on the acquisition by pointing out what a good fit Ginkgo is for his company. “Gen9 was founded to significantly increase the world’s capacity to cost-effectively generate high-quality DNA for use in transforming industries and powering the bioeconomy. Ginkgo has been our largest customer in recent years, and we’re thrilled to join forces and together forge a new trajectory for bringing the benefits of synthetic DNA to a wide range of industries,” he said. “Ginkgo is truly a natural fit for Gen9.”

The organism company and the DNA company: a match made in heaven

As Munnelly indicates, the acquisition does not come as a complete surprise given Ginkgo and Gen9’s recent dealings. Just seven months ago, the two companies announced a partnership whereby Gen9 would supply 300 million base pairs of DNA to Ginkgo over the course of 2017.  In the past year, Ginkgo has commissioned record-breaking amounts of synthetic DNA from both Gen9 and Twist Bioscience, signaling the magnitude of the company’s DNA needs and forecasting the acquisition that has now taken place.

Jason Kelly, cofounder and CEO of Ginkgo Bioworks, also commented on the announcement and its significance to the future of Ginkgo. “Our mission is to make biology easier to engineer and through that to enable our customers to grow better products. Having Gen9’s synthesis and assembly technology available to our customers is a valuable addition to our foundries, allowing us to further speed up the process of organism design,” he said. “We are seeing interest from a broad range of companies looking to use cultured ingredients to make their products in a more efficient and more sustainable way. Having more direct, immediate access to the building blocks primarily for our internal use will allow us to continue to push the envelope of what is possible in biotechnology.”

Under the parameters of the acquisition, the two Massachusetts-based companies will now share a workspace. Ginkgo’s sophisticated Bioworks1 and Bioworks2 foundries, which represent the cornerstones of their automated platform, will become home to Gen9’s BioFab manufacturing platform. Ginkgo will also acquire Gen9’s portfolio of intellectual property, including over 125 patents and patents pending, as well as the Gen9 R&D and operations team.

Here’s what Gen9 brings to the table

Gen9 has made a name for itself as the producer of the cheapest DNA in the industry.  With prices as low as 3 cents per base pair, Gen9 has outcompeted both corporate giants and fellow DNA synthesis startups, whose prices per base pair are many times more expensive. Gen9 is also known for its capability to synthesize uniquely long DNA constructs—up to 10,000 base pairs in length—which blows competitors out of the water.

In early 2016, Gen9 launched its new platform for synthesizing and assembling gene-length DNA constructs, and rolled out their Multiplex Access Partnership Program along with it.  Since then, a number of noteworthy players have joined the program, including enzyme design company Arzeda, renewable product manufacturer Amyris, and, of course, Ginkgo Bioworks. Gen9 has also served partners in academia and recently announced the production of the largest synthetic virus for cancer research in conjunction with Auburn University and Autodesk.

Gen9 was born back in 2009 out of three of the great synthetic biology minds of our day: professor Drew Endy of Stanford, professor Joseph Jacobson of MIT, and professor George Church of Harvard.  Gen9 soon graduated from the academic sphere and adopted new leadership while maintaining the same goal of bringing to market the longest and most inexpensive synthetic DNA. Gen9’s most recent fundraising round closed nearly three years ago, and the company managed to build and deploy its exceptional platform on less than $50 million in total funding since their inception.

Another win for Ginkgo Bioworks

Ginkgo Bioworks has quickly emerged as a force to be reckoned with in the synthetic biology industry. Their approach to biological engineering entails generating a large number of organism variants and then selecting the most optimal candidates for further development– a kind of beefed-up artificial selection that is clearly gaining the company a lot of attention and business. During the past year Ginkgo has announced a seemingly endless series of collaborations with customers both big and small and across a wide range of end markets.  Their long list of partners now includes ADM, Cargill, Amyris, Genomatica, Prospect Bio, and many more.

In June of last year, Ginkgo raised an astonishing $100 million in Series C funding, following up on an equally impressive $45 million Series B almost one year prior.  In total, the company has raised more than $150 million since its founding in 2008, only one year before the founding of Gen9.  For all of the extraordinary achievements we’ve seen so far from Ginkgo, it’s safe to say that with their new acquisition we can expect to see even better.