Bio-factories crank out drugs, flavorings, fuel, more

“You can now build a cell the same way you might build an app for your iPhone,” said Jack Newman, chief science officer of Amyris, as quoted in the Washington Post. Newman can type out DNA sequences on his laptop and synthesize cells in a nearby “bio-factory.”

Post writer Ariana Eunjung Cha writes that some believe such work constitutes the beginning of a third industrial revolution, while others worry about adverse economic, safety, and environmental effects.

Products and potential products of bio-factories range from artemisinin, an anti-malarial drug based on technology from Amyris, to a vanilla flavoring from Evolva.

In April, Amyris reported that Sanofi had launched of large-scale industrial production of artemisinin utilizing Amyris designed strains.

And in February, Evolva  and International Flavors & Fragrances Inc., a global creator of flavors and fragrances for consumer products, announced that they had entered into preproduction phase to develop and scale-up, via a third party, the production of natural vanillin for commercial application through a yeast-based fermentation route.

In more recent news, Amyris and GOL Linhas Aéreas Inteligentes, a low-cost airline in Latin America, this month announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding that could pave the way for GOL commercial flights to use Amyris renewable jet fuel in 2014.

As mentioned, the technology is not without its critics. In addition to economic, safety, and environmental concerns, critics question whether products such as Evolva's “natural vanillin” can really be called natural. Cha in the Post quotes Neil Goldsmith, cofounder of Evolva, as saying, “From my point of view it’s fundamentally as natural as beer or bread. Neither brewer’s or baker’s yeast is identical to yeast in the wild. I’m comfortable that if beer is natural, then this is natural.”

But, writes Cha, some consumer-protection and environmental groups are supporting a boycott of “vanilla grown in a petri dish.” She quotes Jaydee Hanson, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, as saying, “Any ice-cream company that calls this all-natural vanilla would be committing fraud.”

Read the complete Post article here.

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