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Freely Speaking: Washington Post - Ariana Eunjung Cha: "Companies rush to build ‘bio-factories’ for medicines, flavorings and fuels"



As of late, Amyris has been in the news quite a bit. Another article surfaced in the Washington Post just a few days later titled "Companies rush to build ‘bio-factories’ for medicines, flavorings and fuels". For the most part, the article echoes the content found in the New York times article. However, I wanted to emphasize the following bits:



  1. First, I think the analogy of developing new apps on a phone being equal to making yeast produce new sustainable chemicals is quite a cute analogy. The reason: to get yeast to make these new substances does not take a complete rewrite of the yeast OS. A small fraction of the entire yeast genome was modifed to achieve the results we have been achieving. This leads me to the second point.
  2. The whole point of the app analogy is that we are not rewriting large parts of the yeast OS! Unfortunately, the author got a bit confused when she wrote:
    "Unlike traditional genetic engineering, which typically involves swapping a few genes, the scientists are building entire genomes from scratch."
    We are definitely not in the business of rebuilding genomes. There are other companies that are striving towards that goal (e.g.: Synthetic Genomics), but we are not doing that as far as I know. I think the whole point of our approach is rather that in contrast to  traditional genetic engineering which was manually very intensive so that typically one or a very small number of genes would have been manipulated, our technologies have been built to allow for large-scale, mostly automated, strain building. When it becomes possible to build thousands of strains per week, design paradigms like "build-test-learn" cycles become much more feasible. No longer, do we need to understand everything upfront. We can acknowledge that our understanding of the metabolic network is incomplete. Instead we build, test and learn from the many thousand constructs we can build.
  3. I need to read Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" which is credited to be in many ways the first book in the US that got the environmental movement started. There is supposed to be quote in there where she sees biotechnological solutions as a way to make peace with nature again. This was all the way back in 1962! When I find the exact quote, I will post that quote here as well.

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