29 Jul 2021 --- Earlier this year, The SynBio Coalition arrived. It is an organization that strives to ensure that the US continues to have a formidable leadership position in the synthetic biology space. The coalition is a dedicated group of business leaders, academics and government representatives committed to developing synthetic biology as a driver of technological innovation and economic growth. Among its members is biotech firm Genomatica.
“At Genomatica, our goal is to heighten the awareness of synthetic biology and promote a better understanding of its significance within the federal government, so it is viewed as a key element for future success and a priority for public policies,” highlights Damien Perriman, Senior Vice President of Specialty Chemicals at the company.
The US business hopes that this will help fuel legislation that will support a number of areas, including research and development, education, commercialization and production, and the extensive, rapid adoption and use of products made possible by synthetic biology. “Ultimately, this type of support will result in a more sustainable economy, supply chain security, product innovation and new jobs,” emphasizes Perriman.
Putting synthetic biology high up on the agenda was a crucial driver for Genomatica and its inspiration behind launching the SynBio Coalition. “We saw a great opportunity to raise the visibility of synthetic biology and treat it as a national priority,” says Perriman. Good timing is proving pivotal too, as Perriman highlights: “The House and Senate are crafting legislation to strengthen US competitiveness and global leadership.”
Click to EnlargeThe SynBio is pushing lawmakers and the BPC industry towards more sustainable options. Source: Genomatica.In today’s BPC industry, synthetic biology is striving to generate greener solutions for the marketplace to prioritize sustainability and contribute to its attainment, as well as meet consumer demand.
“Synthetic biology is disrupting the personal care market by developing sustainable technologies that allow many existing ingredients to be made from renewable raw materials, and by designing new ingredients with novel performance features to address the growing needs of this market,” says Perriman. As a result of these “two disruptive impacts,” the industry is able to reduce its reliance on petroleum as a raw material in personal care production. These changes resonate with consumers who are more attentive to the environmental impact of the products they choose.
Genomatica has seen this first-hand with the conceptualization and development of its natural butylene glycol, Brontide. The company explains that the personal care ingredient has a 50% lower global warming potential compared to its petroleum-sourced alternative, which allows formulators to modify products with a positive impact on the environment without sacrificing performance. “By changing the source from petroleum to renewable, we are able to supply ingredients in a reliable, long-term and sustainable manner,” details Perriman.
Expanding synthetic biology’s applications is creating opportunities throughout BPC, and is quickly becoming a key focus for companies such as Genomatica and the inspiration behind cross-industry collaborations like The SynBio Coalition, which includes fellow Californian company Antheia and Ginkgo Bioworks in Boston.
“Synthetic biology has great potential for a lot of applications, including medicine, cosmetics, novel products, and to make more sustainable ingredients for everyday products,” notes Perriman.
However, it is not without difficulties that the industry as a whole needs to overcome. “The challenge for the field is pretty simple, the technology has to deliver,” highlights Perriman. Success means delivering on performance, quality and cost-competitiveness while also producing a better sustainability profile, which is increasingly a must-have for consumers and brands.
The good news is that it is already happening. Genomatica, for example, has just announced that a second commercial-scale plant is being built based on one of its biobased technologies. “That's a huge validation. Companies like Cargill and HELM don't spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build a new production facility unless the market craves these better solutions,” states Perriman.
“The technology really works and has already been fully proven at the first plant,” says Perriman. This recent news will bring the production of one of Genomatica’s chemicals to approximately 100,000 tons per year, reducing greenhouse gases by around a million tons per year. “That sets an example for the industry and for supply chains that biotechnology is real, is now and, more importantly, it delivers,” stresses Perriman.
Brands also have a great opportunity to familiarize consumers with the benefits of biotechnology, which will be readily recognized as more biobased products with novel performance features line the online and digital shelves.
Detailing how Genomatica has used information and education to tell the story of synthetic biology, Perriman details: “We have also found it helpful to compare the fermentation process, a key step in our biobased production, to baking bread or brewing beer and, increasingly, mainstream publications are shining a spotlight on the sustainability benefits of this production method.”
Revisiting and updating standards and certifications are key areas for the BPC industry to look at. “There are areas where standards and certifications, developed years or decades ago, can be brought up to date to reflect current understanding,” Perriman notes.
Using the example of the COSMOS-standard - which defines criteria for certifying genuine organic and natural cosmetics - Perriman explains how it “does not currently recognize the use of genetically engineered catalysts, which are used to ‘brew’ more sustainable ingredients from renewable feedstocks but do not appear in the end product”.
Leaders in sustainable products, such as Genomatica, are now actively seeking opportunities to engage broadly with stakeholders to promote greater conversation and understanding around synthetic biology today, both in terms of its opportunities and challenges, and its hopes for the future.
By Natasha Spencer-Jolliffe, BPC Insights Senior Journalist