How to Spot An Engineered Plant

Cell Crunch (Issue 2021.02.05)

Niko McCarty
Feb 5 · 4 min read

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I first set up a little laboratory in the attic at home just to grow crystals or try experiments described in books, such as adding a lot of concentrated sulfuric acid to the blood from a nosebleed which precipitates hemotin from the hemoglobin in the blood. That was quite a nice experiment. I still remember it.

— Dorothy Hodgkin

📰 Bioengineering in the News

Add yeast for flavor.

The European Union imposed restrictions on genetically-modified foods in 2018. But making tests to spot plants that flaunt the rules has been a serious challenge. Link

Some of the world’s best smells — grapefruit, anyone? — are threatened by climate change. Future fragrance-ficionados will turn to synthetic biology to make the smells of their dreams. C&EN. Link

Fold-switching” proteins, which bend and twist into varied shapes to perform different cellular functions, offer a new puzzle for x-ray crystallographers. Quanta Magazine. Link

: A 3D bioprinting technique was used to make a bone-like structure at room temperature, in the presence of molecules and living cells. The study was published in Advanced Functional Materials. Advanced Science News. Link

A bioengineered uterus “could help women with uterine factor infertility” reproduce. This medical condition affects about 1 in 500 reproductive-age women. Future Human. Link

Swamp ash — the wood used to make legendary Fender Stratocasters — is in short supply. Synthetic biologists are looking to grow wood replacements in the lab, without soil or sunlight. Maybe it will save the guitars. Future Human. Link

DNA Script, the French enzymatic DNA synthesis company, wants to democratize DNA, letting researchers print their own sequences in the lab. Link

The Jewett lab, at Northwestern University, used cell-free systems — rehydrated with water — to produce vaccines that protect against bacteria on demand, in less than an hour, for about $5 per dose.Northwestern University. Link

A new tool from the Leonard lab simplifies the creation of ‘split’ proteins, which can be designed to ‘come together’, say, when a small molecule is nearby. The tool will be useful to build biosensors and protein-based logic gates.Northwestern University. Link

A venture firm called NfX has expanded, launching a fund specifically for biotechnology companies, called NfX Bio. Forbes. Link

The ‘noodle-like’ MYC protein has long been studied by cancer researchers hoping to understand its encyclopedia of cellular roles. A new study found that, by introducing just the right mutations in its noodle-y structure, tumors slowly shrink (in mice). Fierce Biotech. Link

The Voigt lab at MIT, together with the ‘living medicine’ company, SynLogic, were awarded $1 million after being selected by the Air Force Research Laboratory as a Biotechnology Grand Challenge Winner. PR Newswire.Link

Domitilla Del Vecchio, a synthetic biologist at MIT, has been named an IEEE Fellow for 2021.MIT News Release. Link

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A Drosophila wing, with cell nuclei stained green and actin filaments stained purple. [Credit: National Cancer Institute | Unsplash]

💳Industry Updates

23andMe, the California-based genetic testing company, is going public as part of a $3.5 billion deal led by the Virgin group. Fierce Biotech. Link

Amyris, a California-based ‘clean beauty’ brand producing ingredients to treat acne with fermentation, announced that their ingredients are more effective than “10 other standard acne treatments currently available” in the U.S. That claim is based on a study conducted by Princeton Consumer Research Corp. PR Newswire. Link

Catamaran Bio, a Massachusetts-based company using synthetic biology to create natural killer cells to fight solid tumors, has named a new CEO, Dr. Alvin Shih. Fierce Biotech. Link

Creo, a California-based company using fermentation to make cannabinoids, announced that they can produce two compounds — cannabigerol and cannabigerolic acid — in large, 12,500 liter reactors. PR Newswire. Link

DNA Script, the Paris-based enzymatic DNA synthesis company, will receive $1.6 million from the French Defence Innovation Agency to develop a tool that can detect “highly pathogenic viruses and bacteria.” BusinessWire. Link

Future Meat Technologies, an Israeli-based “cellular agriculture” company, has reduced “the production cost of a cultured chicken breast to $7.50.” PR Newswire. Link

Geltor, a California-based producer of “specialty proteins”, has added three executives to its leadership board. PR Newswire. Link

Germin8 Ventures, a VC firm investing in food- and agriculture technology companies, named Dr. Ashlie Burkart, a pathologist, as Chief Scientific Officer. SynBioBeta. Link

Ginkgo Bioworks, the Boston-based bioengineering company, was selected by Massachusetts’ K-12 schools to provide pooled Covid-19 testing. PR Newswire. Link

Illumina, the California-based sequencing giant, is launching a genomics startup incubator in China, with partner Sequoia Capital, a venture capital firm. Fierce Biotech. Link

Pairwise, a biotechnology company based in Durham, N.C., raised $90 million in a series B round. The company uses CRISPR to create ‘enhanced’ fruits and vegetables. The Spoon. Link

Parse Biosciences, a Seattle-based startup that is developing single-cell sequencing technologies and was formerly called Split Bio, raised $7 million in a series A round. Crunchbase. Link

Sana Biotechnology, a Seattle-based company specializing in gene regulation, has raised the largest IPO ever for a preclinical biotech company. Axios. Link

Twist Bioscience, the California-based DNA manufacturing company, expanded its leadership board. BusinessWire. Link

Until Monday,


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Innovation for the Bioeconomy

Niko McCarty

Written by

Science journalism at NYU. Previously Caltech, Imperial College. #SynBio newsletter: Web:


The Medium publication for biotechnology and everyone involved in the revolution. The best brought to you by the brightest.

Niko McCarty

Written by

Science journalism at NYU. Previously Caltech, Imperial College. #SynBio newsletter: Web:


The Medium publication for biotechnology and everyone involved in the revolution. The best brought to you by the brightest.

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