The synthetic biology company Ginkgo Bioworks announced the acquisition of two companies: French-based Altar and Circularis, located in Oakland, CA. The news comes just months after Ginkgo’s largest acquisition to date—when the company acquired Zymergen for $300M this past summer.
Founded in 2017, Altar has developed a proprietary adaptive evolution platform (based on their Genemat technology) which enables continuous cultivation of microorganisms under selective pressure controlled by algorithms. Ginkgo’s acquisition will bring Altar’s automated adaptive laboratory evolution (ALE) instruments to Ginkgo’s Foundry in Boston.
Why would Ginkgo want this technology? The company noted that, despite the immense progress in rational genome editing and high-throughput testing of engineered strains over the last decade, it remains challenging to engineer microorganisms that meet target specifications under industrially relevant conditions due to the complexity and unknowns of the underlying genetics.
ALE may be able to address this challenge and support the development of certain phenotypes, such as those based on improved growth under normally unfavorable conditions. It will bolster Ginkgo’s existing strain engineering capabilities to engineer those target phenotypes that can be selected based on their improved growth properties under defined process conditions, such as in the presence of otherwise inhibitory concentrations of a target end product or prohibitively high temperatures.
Selected strains coming out of these ALE-based selections will then be characterized and further validated by Ginkgo’s existing suite of test workflows.
Ginkgo is also acquiring Circularis, a company with a proprietary circular RNA and promoter screening platform. When circularized, RNA is much longer-lived in cells, improving its robustness as a potential therapeutic modality. The Circularis platform also allows ultra-high-throughput screening of promoters and other enhancers.
Circularis was founded at the University of California at Davis, in 2014. It then attended the IndieBio accelerator. IndieBio is a venture capital accelerator that writes, they say, “small checks into radical ideas using biology as a technology to disrupt markets outside healthcare.”
Circularis noted that their advanced understanding of circular RNA across multiple cell types and organisms has guided their design towards a range of novel circular RNA materials for use in the growing field of RNA therapeutics.
In recent years, Ginkgo has significantly expanded its work in cell and gene therapy. This includes a program to improve adeno-associated virus (AAV) manufacturing in partnership with Biogen, and a program to develop AAV capsids with altered tropism and immunogenicity in partnership with Selecta Biosciences.
In addition, they have worked on programs across the nucleic acid therapeutics space, they are actively engaged in improving circular RNA efficacy and manufacturing yields.
The Circularis platform strengthens Ginkgo’s platform for the development of cell and gene therapies because it provides the capability to rapidly identify novel promoters with appropriate strength and tissue-specificity designed into customer-specific delivery modalities.
Leveraging Ginkgo’s ability to explore large numbers of genetic designs, these promoter libraries can be explored in combination with modified therapeutic payloads and capsids to provide gene therapy developers a solution that works across any range of cell or organism models. Similarly, the Circularis platform will give Ginkgo the ability to rapidly identify context-specific promoters for cell therapy applications, such as those that modulate gene expression in the tumor microenvironment.