Synthetic Genomics Creates Host Organism Optimized for Bio Industry

Xconomy San Diego — 

Scientists from Synthetic Genomics, the San Diego-based industrial biotech, have re-engineered a fast-growing microorganism found in salt marsh mud to maximize its production of proteins and to optimize other common bio-based processes.

The enhanced version of Vibrio natriegens, a marine bacterium of a type known as Gram-negative, could potentially replace Escherichia coli as the workhorse host organism for the biotech industry, according to research published online today in Nature Methods. V. natriegens has the fastest growth rate of any known organism, reproducing at a rate that doubles in less than 10 minutes.

While recombinant DNA technology has revolutionized biomedical research, Synthetic Genomics said the pace of developing new biological drugs, bio-based chemicals, food, and other products are constrained by the relatively slow growth rate of E. coli as a host organism. Scientists have used E. coli out of necessity, primarily because there were no suitable alternatives, according to Synthetic Genomics.

Privately held Synthetic Genomics was founded in 2005 by the human genome pioneer J. Craig Venter and the Nobel Laureate Hamilton Smith, who together serve as co-scientific officers. The company applies its capabilities in synthetic biology to invent new methods of bio-based production. In recent years, Synthetic Genomics has been working to create a specialized business, using its expertise in synthetic biology to develop new types of biotech lab supplies and products.

Re-engineering V. natriegens to replace E. coli as an industry standard would likely increase the speed of innovation by accelerating protein expression, molecular cloning, and other bio-based processes, Synthetic Genomics said in a statement released this morning.

The scientists, led by Daniel Gibson, vice president of DNA technologies at Synthetic Genomics, have christened (and trademarked) their re-engineered bacterium Vmax. In the company’s statement, Gibson calls Vmax “a game-changing alternative to E. coli, the organism that has been a laboratory staple for decades.”

According to the company, the findings reported today set the stage for commercialization of Vmax cells for molecular cloning and protein expression. The company said Vmax is compatible with most laboratory kits, reagents, growth medium, and other standard materials used in biotech laboratories.

The company said it is already in the process of designing and synthesizing new Vmax cells that operate at even higher efficiencies and productivity.