Imagine a world in which all the planes in the sky are fueled by algae and the very breath you exhale can be turned into food. Everything, from plastic bags to clothing, is completely biodegradable. This may sound like science fiction right now, but it’s a future synthetic biology companies across the country are working to bring to fruition — and it’s not as distant as you might think.

Just like rearranging ones and zeros on a screen can alter a digital product, changing the chemical code contained in DNA can alter a biological system. And these newly formed microorganisms can, in theory, make many of the same things that industrial processes handle now. With synthetic biology, companies can make an infinite amount of raw materials from scratch, cell by cell, allowing us to manufacture the things we depend on in a much more sustainable way. Indeed, just as data and cloud computing companies brought us into the digital era, synthetic biology is forging an entirely new production and sustainability frontier. 

With a reported market value of more than $13 billion, the industry seems to have hit its stride. While there is still a long way to go to make many of these products and processes commercially available, the progress synthetic biology has made so far is spawning an entire ecosystem of companies that are working to revolutionize the material world as we know it. And these companies are doing it in ways that are more environmentally friendly because they use fewer resources and fossil fuels. 

Top Synthetic Biology Companies to Keep an Eye On

  • Bolt Threads
  • Mammoth Biosciences
  • LanzaTech
  • Motif FoodWorks
  • Joyn Bio
  • Kiverdi
  • Perfect Day
  • Viridos
  • Biossance
  • Upside Foods

Think tank BCG Henderson Institute projects the meat, beauty and pharmaceuticals industries are on the brink of being taken over by synthetic biology; and the agriculture, automobile and fashion industries will follow soon after. The momentum gained in this space stands to transform more than just a handful of industries, though, but essentially the entire economy. Another analysis published by BCG Henderson Institute found that synthetic biology could disrupt sectors that account for as much as 30 percent of the global GDP — $28 trillion — in just eight years. 

To get an idea of what this industry has up its sleeve and where we are seeing the most innovation, check out these 21 synthetic biology companies.

 

Synthetic Biology Companies to Know

Ice cream sandwiches made with Perfect Days animal-free ice cream.
Ice cream sandwiches made with Perfect Day’s animal-free ice cream. Image: Perfect Day

Location: Berkeley, California

What it does: Perfect Day has figured out a way to make milk protein that is “nutritionally identical” to cow’s milk, using fermentation to turn sugar into whey and casein. Back in 2019 the company made headlines for the limited run of its animal-free ice cream, which came in vanilla blackberry toffee, milk chocolate and vanilla salted fudge flavors. Now, it sells its protein to other food and dairy companies like popular low-calorie ice cream maker Nick’s and protein powder maker Natreve.

 

A screenshot of Apeel Sciences' website showing how their product prolongs the freshness of produce past its normal expiration date. In this case, and avocado staying fresh up to 30 days.
Apeel Sciences’ plant-based coating used to extend the shelf life of an avocado well past 30 days. | Image: Apeel Sciences

Location: Santa Barbara, California

What it does: With a stable of prominent investors including Andreessen Horowitz and musician Katy Perry, Apeel Sciences makes plant-based coatings that are designed to extend the shelf life of produce. The tasteless and odorless layer is wrapped around fruits and vegetables as a way to keep moisture in while letting oxygen out, which reportedly helps them stay fresh twice as long. The company was last valued at $2 billion, and works with a global network of fresh food growers, suppliers and retailers.

 

A screenshot of Twist Bioscience's website showing their silicon chip.
Twist Bioscience manufactures custom DNA “written” on a silicon chip that can be used across multiple industries. | Image: Twist Bioscience

Location: San Francisco, California

What it does: Twist Bioscience is able to manufacture synthetic DNA by “writing” DNA on a silicon chip. This custom DNA can be applied to a variety of industries, including healthcare, industrial chemicals and agriculture. Every day, Twist turns millions of oligonucleotides into high-grade genes that can then be used by researchers to produce everything from next-generation sequencing preparation to antibody libraries. It also proved essential in the fight against Covid-19, since antibody treatments require custom DNA. More recently, the company announced a new collaboration with fellow synthetic biology company Ginkgo Bioworks, building on a previous supply agreement from 2017.

 

A screenshot of the Ginko Bioworks website showing abstract biology shapes.
Ginkgo Bioworks uses genetically altered cells to revolutionize a variety of industries. | Image: Ginko Bioworks

Location: Boston, Massachusetts

What it does: Through biological engineering, Ginkgo Bioworks alters the genetic composition of cells to change how they behave, designing custom organisms that have the potential to transform a variety of industries, from food to industrial products. It even applied its technology to help with Covid-19 testing and vaccine manufacturing early in the pandemic. Boasting a constellation of spin-offs, partnerships and joint ventures, Ginkgo has been likened to Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway. The company announced it was going public via a $17.5 billion merger with Soaring Eagle Acquisition, a special purpose acquisition company, last May. And it began trading on the New York Stock Exchange a few months later. 

 

A screenshot of Impossible Food's website showing their synthetic beef product.
Impossible Foods’ highly popular plant-based burger product. | Image: Impossible Foods

Location: Redwood City, California

What it does: Perhaps one of the most recognizable players in the synthetic biology space, Impossible Foods sits at the center of the alternative and plant-based meat revolution, raising a total of $2.1 billion in venture funding since its founding in 2011. The company makes its burger patties from wheat and potato protein, coconut and sunflower oils, food starch, methylcellulose and — most crucially — a lab-engineered non-meat-based heme molecule. Heme gives the “beef” not only that iconic reddish-brown color of regular meat, but also the ability to bleed, sizzle and taste like animal meat. Its massively popular burger patty, as well as its meat-free sausage, chicken nuggets, pork and meatballs, are available in some of the biggest grocery stories in the United States, including Kroger and Walmart. 

 

A screenshot of Bolt Threads website showing their synthetic leather made from mushrooms.
Bolt Threads uses mushroom mycelium to generate a leather-like product that can be used to manufacture anything from bags to footwear. | Image: Bolt Threads

Location: Emeryville, California

What it does: Bolt Threads is bringing the stark, science-based elements of synthetic biology to a decidedly unscientific industry: fashion. The company took mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms, and engineered its cell growth into a leather-like product. Known as Mylo, this biomaterial can then be tanned and dyed just like normal leather, and can be manufactured into everything from bags to footwear. Bolt has also created synthetic silk material by putting new genes into yeast, which has been used in apparel like ties and dresses. And it is now partnered with several leading designers and retailers, including Adidas, Lululemon and Stella McCartney.

 

A screenshot of Mammoth Bioscience's website showing their CRISPR technology.
Mammoth Biosciences uses CRISPR technology to diagnose and treat genetic diseases. Image: Mammoth Biosciences

Location: Brisbane, California

What it does: At the core of Mammoth Biosciences is CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats), which effectively cuts genomes and slices DNA in order to treat genetic diseases. For most, the star of CRISPR is the Cas9 protein, which essentially acts as the molecular “scissors.” But the CRISPR system is actually made up of several Cas protein families, each with their own unique abilities. This is where Mammoth focuses, using protein discovery in order to treat CRISPR as a diagnostic tool, rather than just an editing tool. The company now has one of the largest repositories of CRISPR-based proteins for use in medicines and diagnostics.

 

A screenshot of LAnzatech's website showing an overview of their carbon reduction process.
An overview of LanzaTech’s process of recycling carbon into biofuels and other sustainable products. | Image: LanzaTech

Location: Skokie, Illinois

What it does: LanzaTech’s carbon recycling process captures biogas from agricultural and municipal waste, then converts it into biofuels and other products and sustainable materials — creating a kind of circular economy in which industrial byproducts are repurposed into something useful again. L’Oréal, Lululemon and Unilever are among its most prominent customers. LanzaTech launched a new spinout specifically for creating sustainable aviation fuel back in 2020, and then more recently announced plans to make its public debut through a merger with special purpose acquisition company, AMCI Acquisition Corp. II.

 

A screenshot of Motif Foodworks' website showing their synthetic ground beef product cooking in a pan.
Motif FoodWorks focuses on creating plant-based meat and dairy alternatives that also look and behave like the real things. | Image: Motif FoodWorks

Location: Boston, Massachusetts

What it does: One of Ginkgo Bioworks’ various spin-offs, Motif FoodWorks is using precision fermentation to make alternative meat and dairy products that look and behave like the real thing — like meat that bleeds or cheese that can melt, bubble and stretch. The goal, Motif’s chief commercial officer Michele Fite told Built In last year, is to understand the “fundamental science” behind the taste and texture of plant-based foods. “Plant-based foods have the potential to drive a more sustainable future, but that doesn’t matter unless people actually eat them.” This area isn’t without some competition, though. Impossible Foods is suing Motif for patent infringement, claiming its beef alternative that uses heme too closely resembles its own version.

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A screenshot of Amyris' website showing an array of cell cultures growing in a petri dish.
Amyris' sugarcane fermentation used to generate bioidentical molecules used in skincare, haircare, cosmetics and fragrances. | Image: Amyris

Location: Emeryville, California

What it does: Using sugarcane fermentation, Amyris converts basic plant sugars into unique bioidentical molecules that are used to make its clean skincare, haircare, cosmetics and fragrances, in addition to sweeteners. Although it is best known for its contributions to the personal care industry, Amyris got its start in biopharmaceuticals, and, in 2008, engineered a special yeast strain that is used in antimalarial drugs. Through ongoing financial support from the Gates Foundation, the company continues work to reduce the cost of malaria treatments and increase their availability around the world.

 

A screenshot of Ecovative Design's website showing their plant-based mycelium foam.
Evcovative’s foam and packing material made from plant-based mycelium. | Image: Ecovative Design

Location: Green Island, New York

What it does: Ecovative Design’s plant-based mycelium foam and packaging can reportedly decompose within a month of composting, and it has been used by giants like IKEA and Dell to replace their polystyrene and Styrofoam counterparts. Ecovative has also figured out how to use mycelium to make more eco-friendly faux leather, food and beauty products.

 

A screenshot of Joyn Bio's website showing their synthetically grown crops.
Crops grown using Joyn Bio’s microbe generated fertilizers. | Image: Joyn Bio

Location: Boston, Massachusetts

What it does: Joyn Bio synthesizes microbes that allow cereal crops like corn, wheat and rice to use fertilizers more efficiently, thus reducing the quantity necessary for growth. Crops like these tend to have a hard time accessing the correct amount of nitrogen from soil naturally, so farmers typically turn to synthetic fertilizers as a substitute. Joyn Bio is reengineering these crops so that they can access nitrogen from soil, reducing the need for nitrogenous fertilizers while at the same time protecting the crops from pests and diseases. The company is a joint venture founded by Ginkgo Bioworks and Bayer, a prolific manufacturer of healthcare and agricultural products.

 

ElevateBio's logo with an abstract design of DNA in the background.
ElevateBio offers gene editing and cellular engineering services that are used in both academia and research development. | Image: ElevateBio

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

What it does: By operating a portfolio of companies across areas like gene editing and cellular engineering, ElevateBio serves as a bridge between academic research development and the commercialization and production of cell and gene therapies. This allows the smaller companies to focus on the research side, while ElevateBio focuses on the bigger picture of bringing these therapies to market. The startup has raised nearly $850 million of venture capital for its novel approach, and garnered the attention of major investors like SoftBank Vision Fund 2.

 

A screenshot of Conagen's website showing an abstract image of floating molecules.
Conagen uses microbial fermentation to generate naturally occurring flavor compounds. | Image: Conagen

Location: Boston, Massachusetts

What it does: Conagen uses microbial fermentation to turn glucose into vanillin, the main compound extracted from the vanilla bean that serves as a natural flavoring agent for businesses looking to use natural ingredients more sustainably. The company also works in the pharmaceutical space, using synthetic biology to make both biologic immunotherapy and chemotherapy drugs.

 

A screenshot of Huue's website showing a pair of jeans that were dyed using natural dyes.
Sustainably dyed denim with Huue’s proprietary microbe technology. | Image: Huue

Location: Oakland, California

What it does: In an effort to clean up the apparel industry’s manufacturing footprint, Huue produces sustainable indigo dyes from sugar-consuming microbes, replacing the chemicals typically used. Today, the indigo used to dye clothing like denim uses toxic chemicals like formaldehyde, petroleum and cyanide. Huue uses sugar, leveraging proprietary technology to create microbes that mirror nature’s processes and consume sugar to enzymatically produce sustainable dye.

 

A screenshot of Kiverdi's website showing a salad using synthetically produced chicken.
Chicken produced using raw materials generated through carbon recycling and microbes. | Image: Kiverdi

Location: San Francisco, California

What it does: Kiverdi breaks down carbon materials into their fundamental elements and builds them back up to create microbe-based oils and proteins — raw materials for food and everyday household products — that are more eco-friendly. The company was inspired by a discovery NASA scientists made in the 1960s, which resulted in a method that uses single-cell organisms called hydrogenotrophs to convert exhaled carbon dioxide into food. Decades later, Kiverdi realized that this could be helpful in not only deep space exploration, but also our quest here on Earth to both reduce carbon emissions and feed a growing population sustainably. Kiverdi applies carbon recycling to other areas of sustainability, too, including the transformation of plastic waste into biodegradable materials. 

 

A screenshot of Codexis' website showing a lab tech adding a solution to a row of test tubes.
Codexis develops more efficient enzymes that are used across a variety of industries. | Image: Codexis

Location: Redwood City, California

What it does: By using protein engineering, Codexis develops more efficient enzymes that can be custom-designed to fit the needs of a variety of industries. From developing biocatalysts for the sustainable manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and food, to engineering enzymes to more effectively diagnose and treat diseases, Codexis aims to develop biosolutions that benefit the health of both people and the environment.

More on BiotechWhat Is the Future of Blood Testing?

 

A lab tech mixing a green solution in a flask.
Viridos’ harnesses the power of photosynthesis to produce sustainable biofuel. | Image: Viridos

Location: La Jolla, California

What it does: Recently rebranded from Synthetic Genomics, Viridos claims to be responsible for a lot of firsts in synthetic biology research, including transplanting the first genome, synthesizing the first bacterial genome and creating the first synthetic cell. The company has also been collaborating with ExxonMobil for more than a decade to engineer algae into renewable fuel, harnessing the power of photosynthesis to produce a biofuel that can recycle the atmosphere’s excess CO2. Now, Viridos says it has managed to bring microalgae oil productivity to levels that make biofuel production a reality on a commercial scale.

 

A screenshot of Biossance's website showing flasks and beakers with plants and leaves in them.
Biossance generates animal-free compounds that is uses in its line of clean serums, creams and moisturizers. | Image: Biossance

Location: Emeryville, California

What it does: Biossance makes an animal-free version of squalane — a cosmetic additive that is traditionally harvested from shark livers — by borrowing the same fermentation process that its parent company Amyris used to produce its antimalarial drug. Biossance’s clean serums, creams and moisturizers are available at beauty retailer Sephora, and have garnered the support of celebrities like Reese Witherspoon and Jonathan Van Ness.

 

A screenshot of Mango Material's website showing spools of different colored synthetic threads.
Mango Materials’ bioplastics are used to make bags and clothing that are optimized for biodegradability. | Image: Mango Materials

Location: Redwood City, California

What it does: Mango Materials uses bacteria to turn methane into bioplastics that can be used in clothing and other goods, making it possible for them to degrade naturally if they end up in oceans (like so much of our waste does). The company received its first funding about 10 years ago from the National Science Foundation, and has since focused on using biopolymer formulation to make poly-hydroxyalkanoate, or PHAs. These plastic pellets are optimized for biodegradability and still have the physical integrity of traditional plastic, and can be used to make everything from grocery bags to yoga pants.

 

A plate of fried chicken and waffles made with Upside Food's lab generated meats.
Upside Foods makes lab grown meat that eliminates the need for raising livestock. | Image: Upside Foods

Location: Berkeley, California

What it does: In an effort to produce synthetic biology meats at scale, Upside Foods takes stem cells from chickens and eggs, feeds them nutrients like amino acids, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins, and then speeds up the growth of these cells using a bioreactor. In the end, they have meat that doesn’t require the raising of livestock, which is both more sterile and better for the environment. So far, the company has grown chicken, beef and duck in its bioreactors. It also recently opened a plant capable of making 50,000 pounds of lab-grown meat, making it the largest facility of its kind in North America. Once the sale of cultured meat is legal in the United States, Upside has an agreement with San Francisco’s Dominique Crenn to serve its chicken in her three Michelin-starred restaurant, Atelier Crenn.

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