Ginkgo inks biosensor pact to speed strain development


Ginkgo Bioworks has teamed up with Prospect Bio to incorporate biosensors into its organism design process. The biosensors are intended to cut the time and cost of developing strains by shortening the prototype screening stage.

Prospect pitches its biosensors as a cheaper way to screen than either liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry or chemical or enzyme assays. For Ginkgo, the appeal lies in the potential to measure multiple strains at the same time. By switching to a parallel process from more linear, one-at-a-time ways of working, Ginkgo thinks costs can come down by nearly 40 times. And, by enabling screening of larger numbers of engineered microbes, the approach is also tipped to accelerate development. 

The significance of such benefits to Ginkgo has ratcheted up as other aspects of its operation have grown. With advances in DNA synthesis, robotics and computing--plus the scale of its new 18,000-square-foot facility--enabling Ginkgo to churn out prototype organisms at a faster and faster rate, the screening step has emerged as a bottleneck. The biosensors are part of Ginkgo’s attempt to ensure the bottleneck doesn’t slow its progress.

“The synergy between our foundry tools and Prospect’s biosensors means lower costs and faster development times across a range of our projects,” Nate Tedford, head of Ginkgo’s test platform, said in a statement. “We’re thrilled to be working with Prospect Bio on new tools that will help us grow our capabilities even further.”

Landing the deal with Ginkgo marks a notable step forward for Prospect, a West Coast startup that grew out of Illumina ($ILMN) Accelerator graduate MetaMixis. In working on enzymes and pathways to create biobased materials, the MetaMixis team recognized the “test” stage of the process was an emerging bottleneck for industrial biotechnology. This led to the formation and focus of Prospect.    

“Our team is obsessed with the assumption that there is an enormous trove of useful biological components that remain to be mined in the natural environment,” Giles Ochs, co-founder of Prospect told Synbiobeta. “Prospect was created under the belief that somewhere in this obsession is the solution for ‘test’.”