But while such possibilities for synthetic biology are impressive, in practical application the bioindustry is focusing on less glitzy functions to address basic consumer and industry needs.
Bridge is currently working with Lumin, a company formed to expand on a 2006 iGEM team’s project. Lumin has engineered an E. coli strain for use in a handheld biosensor to detect the presence of arsenic in drinking water supplies in developing countries.
Lumin’s platform combines a natural E. coli arsenic detoxification pathway with a portion of the well-known lactose metabolism system. The system is constructed such that various promoters act in concert to render the lac gene as a reporter that indicates the level of arsenic in water supplies according to the pH of the test solution.
Verdezyne focuses on creating synthetic gene libraries instead of single-gene manipulations to introduce diversity of enzymatic function into metabolic pathways for large-scale industrial fermentations.
“Enzymes from diverse sources show wide variation in kinetic properties that may not adequately predict their performance in a recombinant microbe, so rational selection of the best genes encoding a metabolic pathway still remains a challenge,” says Stephen Picataggio, Ph.D., CSO.
“Furthermore, flux control is often distributed over several reactions in a pathway, so that amplification of any one gene does not necessarily increase pathway flux. Therefore, coordinated and balanced overexpression of multiple genes encoding a pathway is necessary to maximize productivity.”
Earlier this year, the company reported proof of concept in production of adipic acid (a precursor to nylon) with the engineering of a feedstock-flexible yeast strain capable of utilizing sugar, plant-based oils, or alkanes. The company estimates that its platform could realize a 20% manufacturing-cost advantage over traditional petrochemical production of adipic acid.
Verdezyne also entered a collaboration earlier this year with Lallemand Ethanol Technology, a producer of yeast for the biofuels industry, to develop and commercialize a high-yield ethanol-producing strain.