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Ginkgo Acquires Bayer Agricultural Biologics Technology

Iowa cornfield

Corn field in Iowa (A. Kotok)

22 Apr. 2022. Synthetic biology developer Ginkgo Bioworks is acquiring agricultural biologics assets from Bayer, transforming the companies’ five-year partnership. The agreement officially closes the companies’ joint venture in agricultural biologics called Joyn Bio, but with global life science company Bayer maintaining its commercialization role in the relationship with Ginkgo.

Ginkgo Bioworks in Boston creates synthetic biology and engineering tools for medicines, agriculture, and bio-based materials with a process the company says is similar to computer software design and programming. Among its offerings, Ginkgo produces synthesized nucleic acids, including DNA, to design microorganisms for special-purpose enzymes and other bio-chemicals. The company says its library of cells, enzymes, and genetic programs called codebase helps shortcut discovery of new bio-engineered products. Ginkgo also provides robotics and software, including artificial intelligence, to support its synthetic biology and engineering work.

In 2017, Ginkgo Bioworks and Bayer, based in Monheim, Germany, started a joint venture that became Joyn Bio to develop genetically altered soil microbes beginning with those that capture nitrogen in the air for crop nutrients, a process known as nitrogen fixation. The engineered microbes, says Joyn Bio, act as a substitute for conventional chemical fertilizers to enable growers — particularly of cereal grains like corn, wheat, and rice — to reduce runoff from excess nitrogen fertilizer as well as greenhouse gas emissions from fertilizer manufacturing. In addition, the microbes can help farms extend the time for adding nitrogen into the soil without adding more fertilizer. The joint venture, says Joyn Bio, combines Ginkgo’s synthetic biology expertise with Bayer Crop Science’s library of some 100,000 microbial strains.

Expand into carbon sequestration and crop protection

Ginkgo Bioworks and Bayer call their new arrangement an expansion of the current partnership. Under the revised collaboration, Ginkgo is acquiring Joyn Bio and Bayer’s Biologics Research and Development site in Sacramento, California, where much of the research on engineered microbes takes place. Bayer says the site has 140 employees and often works with researchers at nearby University of California in Davis.

Under the deal, Bayer continues as the preferred recipient of advances from the R&D site, allowing Bayer Crop Science to focus more on commercializing its biologics products. The companies expect those products to expand from nitrogen fixation into carbon sequestration and crop protection. Ginkgo says in a company statement it expects cash proceeds from the collaboration with Bayer will offset anticipated expenditures, but further financial terms of the partnership were not disclosed.

“This is an exciting time for biologicals,” says Benoit Hartmann, who heads biologics at Bayer Crop Science in a Bayer statement, “and Bayer understands that development of the next generation of biological products must be accelerated to help growers face the challenges of climate change and food security as well as to meet the demands of sustainability.”

“We want agricultural biological development to be as simple and efficient as programming a computer,” notes Ginkgo co-founder and CEO Jason Kelly, “and by combining Ginkgo’s expertise in biologics early discovery and development with Bayer and Joyn’s platforms, we will be able to offer effective paths to market for Bayer’s Biologics division.”

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