Zymergen (Emeryville, Calif.; www.zymergen.com) recently announced $300 million in new investments for the company’s fermentation-based platform technology that generates novel bio-based monomers for specialty products applications. Combining synthetic biology with machine-learning-enhanced automated screening, Zymergen’s technology has demonstrated the capability to identify and produce novel monomers and compounds via microbial fermentation.
The platform allows rapid scaling of economically viable production of biological molecules with performance attributes not attainable with incumbent materials. “We are aiming to fill as-yet unmet needs in specialty applications with a range of products based on renewable feedstocks that can be made at the same factory with modest capital investment, and with more environmentally sustainable processes,” explains Zymergen’s president Richard Pieters. Because these biologically derived molecules cannot be sourced from petroleum feedstock, the company can engineer unique property profiles that improve performance in ways petrochemical compounds cannot.
This opens a range of new application opportunities. Earlier this year, Zymergen, along with its development partner Sumitomo Chemical Co. (Tokyo, Japan; www.sumitomo-chem.co.jp), launched its first commercial product, known as Hyaline, a novel polyimide film for display screens in electronics applications. “Hyaline has unique optical transparency and other mechanical properties not attainable using existing materials, allowing us to push the boundaries of display technology, such as toward foldable touchscreens,” explains Zach Serber, Zymergen co-founder and chief scientific officer. The company is also working on novel bio-based adhesives, pesticides and consumer-care insect repellent designed to achieve performance benefits over the existing options.
The company’s automated screening system uses machine-learning algorithms to evaluate over 20,000 biological molecules, plus their derivatives, for properties that match specifications and market needs. Then, a small group of molecules predicted to have the correct properties is synthesized using genetically engineered microbial hosts. The bio-derived monomers are polymerized and further developed into the novel materials, such as the Hyaline film.