This was a busy year for synthetic biology, giving the SynBioBeta editorial team plenty of great material to report on. It is always rewarding for us to see what you — our readers — are enjoying. It also lets us know which information is valuable to the synthetic biology community, and what we should be delivering more of.
We recently took a look at what the SynBioBeta audience enjoyed in 2018. Excluding our viral April Fool’s article that was indeed the most popular of the year, we found that the year’s top articles fell into a few key categories: fundraising, investing, education and training, and space.
The result? A diverse list of articles that not only serve as a reminder of what a great year it was for synthetic biology, but also reveal what our community is most excited about for the future. Read on for SynBioBeta’s top articles of 2018.
Synthetic biology fundraising and investing
The most popular topics of the year were by far fundraising and investing. One of the biggest news stories of 2018 was Twist Bioscience’s IPO filing — “the most exciting synthetic biology IPO we’ve seen to date,” according to Nanalyze. On the day Twist went public, I summarized the details of Twist’s SEC filing in my article entitled “A big IPO for synthetic biology: Twist rings the NASDAQ bell today.” With an initial fundraising goal of $86.3 million, Twist was well on its way at the end of its first day on the stock market, raising USD$70 million through 5 million shares sold at USD$14/share.
We celebrated our stock market listing by ringing the @NASDAQ Stock Market Closing Bell. Thank you to our employees, customers & partners who have been part of this amazing journey. pic.twitter.com/ji0oVk5uQf
— Twist Bioscience (@TwistBioscience) October 31, 2018
Also popular among our audience was a trio of articles summarizing the synthetic biology fundraising landscape. SynBioBeta contributor Calvin Schmidt, using data compiled by SynBioBeta’s Marianna Limas, hit a home run with his articles, “These fifty synthetic biology companies raised $1.7B in 2017,” “Synthetic biology companies raised over $650 million in Q1,” and “These 33 synthetic biology companies just raised $925 million.”
At the start of 2018, Schmidt revealed to the synthetic biology community the bar set in 2017 — a bar landing far above that set in 2016, a year that was predicted to be hard to beat. Notably, this increase in closings was in contrast to the broader VC community, which saw — again — a decline in deal closings in 2018. By the end of 2017, the synthetic biology space was thriving — and that momentum continued into 2018. In just the first quarter of 2018, synthetic biology companies had raised an astonishing $650 million. In Q2, that number rose to $925 million. Said Schmidt, “The numbers are clear: Investors are hungry for innovative new companies in synthetic biology.”
Though the first quarter of 2018 was impressive, the second quarter beat it in every metric. 33 companies raised $925 million, making it clear that there is increased investor appetite for innovative companies in the space: https://t.co/kW7PshRgCN #synbio #syntheticbiology
— SynBioBeta (@SynBioBeta) July 5, 2018
One such company is Ginkgo Bioworks, which jointly with Transcriptic, received a cash inflow of USD$9.5 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to bring AI into the laboratory. SynBioBeta contributor Ian Haydon had the details of the award in his article “DARPA Awards Ginkgo Bioworks and Transcriptic $9.5M to bring AI to the lab.”
.@DARPA Awards @Ginkgoo Bioworks and @transcriptic $9.5M to Bring #AI into the #Lab https://t.co/BzeYgO9ycw #synbio #biotech #automation #cloudlab #robotics #biology #machinelearning #artificialintelligence #reproducibility #labtech #science
— SynBioBeta (@SynBioBeta) April 12, 2018
But DARPA isn’t the only organization interested in funding synthetic biology research. In fact, according to Schmidt, synthetic biology investors are an eclectic “mix of life sciences and traditional technology investors.” In his article, Schmidt dissected the various sources of income — from accelerators to angels to family offices — for the synthetic biology sector.
Training synthetic biologists
Important though it is, money is only part of the equation, and if synthetic biology is to help us build a better, more sustainable universe, we need to provide the right people the right tools for success. “Training is at the core of synthetic biology globally where developing the next generation of synthetic biologists is essential to harness the capabilities of the field in tackling major societal challenges,” wrote David Kirk in his popular article, “Training the next synthetic biologists.” In the article, Kirk provides an in-depth look at the burgeoning training landscape — from PhD and MBA programs to iGEM — in the UK, one of the world’s fastest growing synthetic biology hotspots.
The appetite for #syntheticbiology has never been greater. As the technology positions itself as integral to developing a #sustainable #bioeconomy, demand is rising for a well-trained generation of synthetic biologists https://t.co/yDg3LfldAX #SDGs #synbio @SynbiCITE @BrisSynBio
— SynBioBeta (@SynBioBeta) November 1, 2018
The SynBioBeta audience was also captivated by a pair of articles describing how winning iGEM teams used state-of-the-art cell-free expression and automation technologies to realize their projects. SynBioBeta editors Kevin Costa and Embriette Hyde explained how Arbor Biosciences and Opentrons, through team sponsorships, helped enable projects using synthetic biology to improve bacteriophage therapy, tackle antibiotic resistance in agriculture, develop a universal bacterial chassis for transformation and cloning — and more. Such collaborations are great examples of how multiple groups can work together to create a functioning synthetic biology stack — a concept nicely explained by Opentrons’ Will Canine in another of SynBioBeta’s most popular articles of 2018.
— SynBioBeta (@SynBioBeta) December 4, 2018
"We need an ecosystem of technologies that will make humanity's ability to build biotechnology solutions 100 or even 1000-fold faster"- @OpenTrons_ @willcanine on the value of the #synbio stack in solving our most pressing global problems. https://t.co/Eb8CSSY1ZX #synbiobeta2018
— SynBioBeta (@SynBioBeta) October 3, 2018
Space: the great beyond
Synthetic biology has the potential to help us solve some of the world’s most challenging problems, such as how to feed our ever-growing population or how to eradicate deadly diseases. But synthetic biology will be critical if we are to achieve one of our most daring goals of this century: life on Mars. A future off Earth is intriguing to think about, and our SynBioBeta community loved a trio of articles focused on space science.
In “Farming on Mars: A future for synthetic biology off Earth” SynBioBeta contributor Fiona Mischel explored how we might grow food on Mars — and how synthetic biology will be critical to achieve such a goal (hint: the key lies with microbes — for now). And in “Moving to Mars? Biomaterials point the way” Mischel discussed how mushrooms can help us create sustainable habitats on the red planet, and how waste management and recycling may help humans build useful tools for off-Earth life. But some challenges remain before science in space has its m.o., such as the logistics of getting tools and samples to space and our current reliance on astronauts to get experiments done — challenges I outlined in my article “Space Lab 3.0: imagining the future of science in space.” In the article, I also introduced NanoRacks, a company facing these challenges head on in its quest to establish the next-generation space lab. Their goal is to increase the quality and return of science done in space so that by the time we arrive on Mars, space is “just another place to do business.”
Microbial crops: The future of life off (and on) Earth. #Yeast and #algae can readily withstand harsh conditions on Earth and are relatively easy to engineer. They are nutritious, reproduce rapidly, and take up far less space than traditional crops. https://t.co/yzg5LYNU1u #mars pic.twitter.com/X7UsFiGQ3O
— SynBioBeta (@SynBioBeta) November 29, 2018
It’s clear that space is the next frontier for synthetic biology, so to help the community stay on top of the space (no pun intended), SynBioBeta CEO John Cumbers announced BetaSpace, a new innovation ecosystem for building a better, sustainable world — both on- and off-Earth.
Synthetic biology gives us the power to explore and leverage new biological frontiers, and in ten years we may not recognize the world we live in. SynBioBeta’s top articles of 2018 reveal that the bioeconomy is booming, and that the community is unwaveringly focused on using synthetic biology to make our world — and universe — a better place for ourselves and for those to come after us.
Here’s to an inspiring, innovative 2019!