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Microbes and Modern Manufacturing

Laboratory

Microbes and manufacturing both have an image problem. Bacteria, yeast, and other microbial organisms make people think of dark, dirty, and undesirable places. So do outdated notions about factories. Most manufacturers know better, but how much do they really know about microbes? Thanks to recent advances, microbes could revolutionize industrial processes and change how some products are made.
In a recent article for Grist, author Suzanne Jacobs considers the case of Cristina Agapakis, a microbiologist and the new creative director for Gingko Bioworks, a Boston-based biotechnology company. Agapakis isn’t a manufacturer, but her research could help manufacturing companies to integrate synthetic biology into their production operations. In fact, that’s exactly the business model that Gingko is building.
For example, food processors could use specialized microbes to develop new sugar substitutes or types of cheeses. Manufacturers of consumer products such as air fresheners could replace chemical ingredients with microbe-made scents that smell like roses. Industrial applications for microbial organisms include the production of biofuels by removing carbon dioxide from the air.
Some of synthetic biology’s aspirational aspects may seem far-fetched, but that hasn’t stopped the flow of investment dollars. Gingko is the first biotech company backed by Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley startup accelerator that’s launched successful technology companies such as Reddit and Dropbox. With more than $50 million in funding, Gingko Bioworks even has backing from DARPA.
How might microbes transform your production operations? Are you interested in learning more about how organisms that grow in dark, dirty, and undesirable places could support your bottom line?
Image Credit: © .shock/Dollar Photo Club

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