Recap of SynBioBeta’s Chemicals & Materials Digital Conference

As we excitedly await the January 2022 in-person SynBioBeta Conference, the synbio community organizers are keeping the conversation alive online. Those who had registered for the January event got a preview of what to expect at last week’s Chemicals & Materials Digital Conference. The half-day online meeting featured panel discussions and live Q&A sessions from Inscripta, Ginkgo Bioworks, LanzaTech, Solugen, Checkerspot, and other industry leaders.

Sustainability was a major theme at the conference. The innovators and bioeconomy thought leaders attempted to answer the question: “How you can incorporate biology into your supply chains and be a part of the movement to build a better world with biology?” The speakers discussed how we can transform the way we make chemicals and materials to reduce (and eventually eliminate) carbon emissions and highlighted areas of focus where biotechnology can make a difference.

The breakout sessions focused on tackling different aspects of that challenge – from using enzymes to modernize existing processes, to producing drop-in chemicals from renewable resources, to safeguarding the supply chains by making rare ingredients in engineered microbes. For instance, the “Building the Future with Biology” session led by Jesse Dill, Director of Growth at Ginkgo Bioworks, and featuring Sasha Calder, Head of Sustainability at Genomatica, and Moji Karimi, CEO of Cemvita Factory Inc., discussed the economic impact of introducing biology solutions into existing business models.

Calder discussed Genomatica’s successful consumer brand partnerships, including a recent collaboration with lululemon, who are introducing sustainable plant-based nylon into their products. “Consumers are now more than ever engaged around sustainability – they are just as likely to purchase a product as they are to punish one,” said Calder. She noted that companies are responding to the demands from investors and clients, as well as thinking about building more resilient long-term business models focused on sustainability.

In another session, Inscripta’s Senior Director of Cell Biology, Patrick Westfall, led a panel discussion “Biological Engineering the Next Generation of Materials and Chemicals” with Kirsten Benjamin, Vice President of R&D Amyris, and Andrew Horwitz of Sestina Bio. Westfall asked the panelists about the process of selecting products they want to make and what considerations go into making those decisions.

Benjamin stated that Amyris was able to bring 13 products to market over the past 20 years because they are very thoughtful about what targets to pursue. “Everything we go after at Amyris is mission driven.” Their goal is manufacturing sustainable ingredients to lower carbon footprint and reduce land use. By making products that replace rare plant- and animal-derived ingredients – such as squalene, traditionally sourced from shark livers – they are using fewer resources while also securing the price and supply availability of those products.

Unlike the biotech veteran Amyris, Sestina Bio has only been around for about a year. How is Sestina developing their product portfolio in the current climate? Horwitz listed three major considerations his company uses when selecting targets: products must have reduced environmental impact, supply chain stability, or represent rare and new materials. “All these are advantages in the ingredient markets,” he said. “Where you start is matching the state of tech to the market needs.” Their current targets include molecules with validated functional properties that have a flawed supply chain, such as cannabinoids. Watch the recorded session.