Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Recap: Synbiobeta Conference 2013 - Part I

This year, I had the opportunity to attend the Synbiobeta 2013 Conference. Synbiobeta is an organization with the mission of fostering a community, and ecology of people, organizations and companies involved in synthetic biology.

The conference was divided up into several sessions. In the next few posts, I will try to summarize what I thought was noteworthy during the meeting. We'll start with session 1.

The topic of the first session was "Scale up in the Bioeconomy". Speakers were Edward Green from Green Biologics, Derek Greenfield from LS9, Paul Hill from Amyris, Kevin Gray from BetaRenewables, Sean Ward from Synthace, and Harry Yim from Genomatica.

I was intrigued by Green Biologics which was talking about using Clostridium as their production platform. They also spoke of using photosynthetic organisms to make butanol and other high value derivatives. I have never heard of this UK-based company (a reminder to keep eyes and ears open for any new companies in this market). What intrigued me was how they talked about using a capital-light approach during the scale-up which is to say that rather than building new commercial-scale production facilities (unlike Amyris), they were just looking for already existing sites that they could purchase for a cheap price. They spoke of a 1.000.000 L commercial plant they are in the process of getting ready. Interestingly, searching for Green Biologics news on Google does not yield (m)any hits. The company does have a functional website which also serves as the only news outlet I found concerning the company. Why these news announcements don't circulate the news media is a mystery to me. Or is this company still in a too early phase to be noted by anyone?

LS9 talked about using their special bio-reactor designs that allow them to siphon products of interest off the upper organic phase. Using the fatty acid pathways, LS9 wanted to bring alkanes and olefins to the market. LS9 currently is in the process of experimenting with production of those products at the 50-100 thousand L scale in Florida.

Paul Hill spoke on behalf of Amyris basically reporting back on recent successes we have had in our commercial scale facilities in Brotas. Amyris, of course, is leveraging the isoprenoid pathway to make farnesene and other high value products or derivative products. One of the things, he noted was that we are able to produce farnesene currently at a little below $5/L.

Synthace talked about using bioinformatics and modeling to come up with holistic bio-process development processes quickly. This talk seemed a bit more hand-wavy than most of the other industrial talks.

Last but  not least, Genomatica spoke of their recent successes producing 1,4-BDO at commercial scale. Of note here: Apart from Amyris, Genomatica was the only other company talking about a specific product they were in the process of commercializing.

Rather than going into the minute details of each talk, what I thought was more interesting was a certain convergence of technologies and approaches, namely: most talks mentioned the design-build-test cycle paradigm, using both directed evolution and rational design techniques coupled to some high-throughput testing pipeline, as well as leveraging different omics tools to get lots of information back.

I will report on the other sessions in later posts.