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Ginkgo Bioworks grabs $100 million in financing to buy a whole lot of synthetic DNA

TechCrunch TechCrunch 8/06/2016 Sarah Buhr

Ginko Bioworks, the Boston-based biotech startup making all sorts of scents and flavors from microbugs, has pulled in $100 million in Series C funding to obtain 600 million base pairs of manufactured DNA – or what Ginkgo claims is the “largest amount of synthetic DNA ever purchased.”

The startup plans to use the millions of genetic base pairs to test its production metal in new areas such as “commodity chemicals, industrial enzymes, and human health markets.”

The new infusion is all cash and brings the total up to $154 million in funding since Ginkgo launched out of Y Combinator less than two years ago — putting it in the top 10 most significant amounts of financing for any YC startup.

This new form of biotech (read – not pharmaceutical manufacturing) started heating up in 2014, as production costs dramatically dropped and Ginkgo was one of YC’s first biotech startup investments and still faces few competitors, including West Coast counterpart Zymergen, which has raised $45 million to date, to mass produce consumer materials by manipulating microbial DNA.

The money in this round comes from YC’s Continuity Fund, Senator Investment Group, Cascade Investment, Baillie Gifford, Viking Global Investors and Allen & Company LLC. Viking Global also led Ginkgo’s Series B round.

Ginkgo currently makes products for the flavor, fragrance and food industries as well as works with DARPA to produce probiotics that will help U.S. soldiers stave off stomach bugs they might pick up overseas but started looking at expanding to other industries last year.

The startup announced in the spring of 2015 it would be buying 100 million base pairs of DNA to help it move into new production areas but has since upped that amount to the 600 million base pairs and will be partnering with Twist Bioscience and Gen9 to supply the synthetic DNA. Twist has pledged to deliver at least 400 of those base pairs of DNA by the end of 2017.

Ginkgo will also be using some of the cash to finish building Bioworks2, a new, 70,000 square-foot automated facility built to test prototypes of Ginkgo’s designer DNA and create those new products in what co-founder Jason Kelly refers to as “verticals tech left behind” such as nutrition and pharma.

“These industries are not fundamentally disruptive like software so there’s this huge opportunity,” Kelly said. “As we get better at designing biology, we’ll use it to make everything, disrupting sectors that the traditional tech industry hasn’t been able to access.”

Ginkgo is already making many new products in those industries and Kelly says the money will help Ginkgo continue doing more of the same as Bioworks2 comes to fruition.

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