Ginkgo’s insane $275M venture haul says it loud: Digital Biology is here

December 14, 2017 |

Ginkgo BioWorks GBW3 facility

Last week we shared with you a framework for a rising technology wave — we called it Digital Biology, the convergence of digital and biological technology waves that is changing genetics from an artisan’s niche into a branch of information technology.

More evidence of the power of the Digital Biology wave arrives this week with news that Ginkgo BioWorks will close a round of $275 million in additional funding including investors such as Viking Global, Y-Combinator’s Continuity Fund and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment.

This brings the company’s total funding to $429 million, and we hear scuttlebutt that Ginkgo’s valuation has risen to over $1 billion.

The attention will go to the staggering “how much” and the “who”, but spare a thought for the “what” this buys and the “whyfore” that’s driving it. Namely, the BioWorks3 hub that will take biology into its Manufacturing Age and out of the medieval turf of artisans and alchemists. This is Industrial Sorcery as we see what we can do to accelerate the re-engineering of the codes of life that power these microbes that will, in turn, fuel, feed, clothe and heal us.

Infotech investors veering into Digital Biology’s turf

In Digital Biology we are also beginnignt to see investors coming over from traditinoal digital information technology and making big, long term bets on biology as the new “it” technology.

Why? Biotech is an increasingly popular, more innovative and sustainable way of rethinking traditional manufacturing processes. Large, public companies in practically every industry are starting to test, or invest in biology-driven tech.

The use of the proceeds

The new funding will be used to accelerate Ginkgo’s expansions to new markets, scale existing projects, and support work in its third organism foundry, Bioworks3, which opens this week. Ginkgo’s foundries leverage advanced technology to automate the highly manual processes typically required in organism design. The space and technology afforded by Bioworks3 will further accelerate Ginkgo’s ability to bring designs to scale, and support work on Ginkgo’s first foray into agriculture through a $100M joint venture with Bayer.

The Ginkgo backstory

Ginkgo designs and prints DNA, the digital code that underlies all living things. With the tools in its foundries, Ginkgo can design this living code to build custom microorganisms for customers in a wide range of industries. Its work includes everything from yeasts that produce fragrance and flavor ingredients to bacteria that can decrease farmers’ reliance on chemical fertilizers to living medicines that work with the body to cure disease.

The Digital Biology Technology Wave and Ginkgo’s Center-of-the-Universe position

“Unlike digital code, DNA code powers us,” said Ginkgo CEO Jason Kelly. “it is our food, our medicine, and increasingly, our technology. DNA is the code that will drive the next technological revolution, the way that digital code drove the revolution in information technology in the last half century. So, we founded Ginkgo to make biology easier to engineer.”

Here’s one way of organizing your thinking, visually, about the Digital Biology space.

In September 2016, we reported on what we termed “The Rise of Organic Manufacturing” and boted that Ginkgo, Amyris, Genomatica’s circle of innovation is a trend to watch. We saw the innovation ring tightening here, and we saw the trend moving faster and faster here.

We looked in October 2016 at Zymergen’s progress and the investor interest pouring in from the digital economy following their epic $130M Series B capital raise in Zymergen gets Lit

And we dubbed this emerging group of companies and their field Digital Biology last week when we reported on Arzeda’s latest capital raise in “This is an algorithm, that is alive: The rise of Arzeda and Digital Biology.”

Ginkgo’s Big, Big Year

The Series D and opening of Bioworks3 cap off a year of major expansion for Ginkgo.

This year marked Ginkgo’s acquisition of Gen9, a leading printer of synthetic DNA, a new $100M joint venture with Bayer to design fertilizer-producing microbes, new partnerships for work on food processing enzymes with Swissaustral and Kerry, and its first public project in the pharmaceutical industry with Synlogic. In October, the company announced a major supply agreement expansion, purchasing one billion base pairs of synthetic DNA from Twist Bioscience. This is the largest volume supply agreement in the industry and makes Ginkgo the largest designer of synthetic DNA, using it in the process of prototyping new designed organisms.

The Bottom Line

“Game-changer” is a well-worn stock phrase applied too often to events which don’t at the time, or enduringly, change the game. But we don;t see the convergence between the bioeconomy and the digital economy slowing down, turning back or downshifting in importance.

Indeed, Silocon Valley may have just begun its investing into the most important software coding platform of all time: move over Objective-C, PHP, Javascript, Python, Ruby, and Unix — here comes the the language of DNA.

And you are here to see it. Lucky you.

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