Synthetic Biology: Bad News for Bakers, but Good News for a COVID-19 Cure

Sudeep Agarwala is a scientist at Ginkgo Bioworks.

And by his own admission he’s an ‘a**hole’.

I’ll explain why in a second…

But first a bit about the company he works for.

Because Gingko Bioworks are at the bleeding edge of a new technology with enormous potential…

Yet you’ve probably never heard of them, or the ground-breaking tech movement they’re part of.

That’ll change soon…

A paradigm shift is coming

You see, they’re a leader in an emerging field of science called synthetic biology.

Or ‘synbio’ for short.

This industry is a mix of engineering, biology, and computer science.

And it’s going to change the field of biotech — and the world.

Soon, synbio tech could allow us to develop super-fast vaccines, not just for the COVID-19 crisis, but for any and all future pandemic threats.

There are several synbio companies in the current race to find a vaccine for COVID-19. And if one of them wins, it’ll mark a seminal change for the future of biotech research.

And some of them are making huge moves on pure potential alone.

For example, from 24 March, UK synbio company Genedrive saw its share price jump 24-fold in just 42 days.

But as exciting as that is, the hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine is just one small aspect to the tech behind it.

Some say this new technology — a tech you might be hearing about for the first time today — could go on to underpin 25% of the entire global economy by 2030.

SynBioBeta founder John Cumbers explains (my emphasis):

If you think back to the 1960s, when we were just inventing the transistor and then going through the history of Silicon Valley, the microprocessor, the Internet, the Web — now 25 percent of the worldwide economy is built on that technology.

It’s difficult to say the timeline, but let’s say in the next 25 years, the biology stack and the amount of value that’s built on top of it will definitely be more than 25 percent of the worldwide economy.

Companies as diverse as Google, Amazon, Proctor & Gamble, and even furniture maker IKEA are all exploring the possibilities here.

I’ll explain more about synbio in a second and why it’s starting to get so much attention.

But first back to our friend Sudeep, the scientist who has a beef with, strangely enough, bakers.

Stay with me here…

Understanding the origins of life

Now, as you might be aware, there’s been a surge of interest in baking amongst the younger generation as the world went into COVID-19 lockdown.

Even I’ve been experimenting with a $29 Kmart pie-making machine. But with no gyms open, it’s probably not the wisest purchase I’ve ever made…


This surge in all things baking has led to a discussion about what is ‘real’ and ‘not real’ baking (apparently my Kmart pie maker isn’t the ‘real deal’…).

The cool kids in the baking scene are of course the ones who were baking before it was, well, cool.

These hipsters of baking claim to use starter yeasts — the live culture used in breads like sourdough — that’ve been in their family for generations.

That’s one of the amazing things about yeast.

With a bit of love and care, live yeast can be kept alive for many decades and used to bake the ‘same bread’ your great-grandma baked.

But this is where our ‘a**hole scientist’ Sudeep begs to differ.

He told Mashable recently:

This is where I become the asshole scientist because I say, “Listen I know you’ve had the starter for a hundred years.”

‘“The yeast that you have in there is not the same yeast from a hundred years ago. Because every time you change water…every time you change flour…it changes.”

I guarantee you, it got too hot in that jar at least once over the past century and you killed off all the yeast in there. I’m so sorry, but these sourdough starters are not the same ones that your great grandparents brought over to California.

Unfortunately for the old school bakers, Sudeep knows a thing or two about yeast.

And what he knows could be about to change a lot of industries; even to help cure COVID-19.

At Gingko Bioworks, Sudeep is part of a team using his understanding of the molecular structure of yeast to create all sorts of synthetic — that is man-made — products at the genetic level.

He says yeast is actually a cutting-edge technology:

Bread is just the beginning. We are now making meatless products with yeast. We have been using yeast to produce our medicines. Yeast is an integral part of how we are going to be solving [COVID-19] processes. The way we understand cancer. The way we understand aging, that all comes from yeast.

The weird thing about the genetic structure of yeast is that it looks a lot like human cells.

Which, as Sudeep explains, allows us to understand how medicine works a lot better at the genetic level.

Synbio will be everywhere

Of course, the study of yeast is just one part of the overall synbio field.

Its tentacles seem to be spreading everywhere.

From fake foods, to responsive clothing materials that open micro-vents in your arm pits when you sweat, to helping solve future pandemics…synbio is the industry I think everyone will be talking about over the next decade.

We’re still at an early stage, but in my opinion, it’ll be the biggest exponential trend of the decade.

That’s a huge claim I know.

So, tomorrow I’m going to delve in a bit deeper and explain why it’s such a big deal.

Then, after that, I’ll explain how you can invest in this exciting space.

Speak then…

Good investing,

Ryan Dinse,
Editor, Money Morning

PS: ‘The Coronavirus Portfolio’ The two-pronged plan to help you deal with the financial implications of COVID-19. Download your free report.

Ryan Dinse is an Editor at Money Morning.

He has worked in finance and investing for the past two decades as a financial planner, senior credit analyst, equity trader and fintech entrepreneur.

With an academic background in economics, he believes that the key to making good investments is investing appropriately at each stage of the economic cycle.

Different market conditions provide different opportunities. Ryan combines fundamental, technical and economic analysis with the goal of making sure you are in the right investments at the right time.

Ryan's premium publications include:

Money Morning Australia