A biotech startup named Ginkgo BioWorks, located in Boston, Mass., is revolutionizing the field of synthetic biology and catapulting it into the global marketplace, all with the help of ... yeast that smells like flowers?
Headed and co-founded by a team of former MIT scientists, the mission of Ginkgo BioWorks - including the renowned Tom Knight, who boasts the moniker "the godfather of synthetic biology" - is simple: to construct new biological systems, and in the case of its flower-redolent yeast, for use in mass production.
Yeast-based substitutes can regulate and guarantee the reliability of base solutions and components critical to a final product, especially since some of these ingredients (for instance, the type of roses used to make rose oil), aren't necessarily predictable in their availability or utility.
How exactly does this work? In a Gizmodo profile on Ginkgo BioWorks and its latest project, journalist Sarah Zhang broke the process down, citing an in-lab database that contains the blueprints for over 1,000 enzymes:
The synthesis of any molecule, say a rose-scented one, requires a chain of enzymes, each one playing a part as small as snapping off a particular hydrogen atom. Designing yeast that smells like roses, then, becomes a matter of a choosing the right chain of enzymes and splicing the genes for each into a yeast cell. Different enzymes work better in different conditions - at different temperatures or pH levels - so it can take some trial and error.
Once an enzyme is selected and a pathway is mapped out, the enzyme genes are spliced by a robot, added to a yeast sample, and moved through a chromatography column, which purifies the compounds. And voilà, your very own rose-scented ... yeast.
Wondering exactly what Ginkgo BioWorks' current samples smell like? Zhang described the scent of the yeast produced at Ginkgo BioWorks as "crisp and pear-like," rather than the fragrance of what yeast labs usually smell like, "a bready scent familiar to bakers and brewers."