Amyris Wins $8M from DARPA to Develop Synthetic Biology Tools, Processes

Amyris won an approximately $8 million contract from the U.S. Department of Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA) to develop tools for expanding its industrial synthetic biology technology across biological platforms and cell types. The value of the contract is dependent on Amyris meeting technical milestones connected with DARPA’s Living Foundries research program.

Amyris is exploiting genetic engineering and screening technologies to generate yeast strains that can be used in established fermentation processes to convert plant-sourced sugars into desired hydrocarbon target molecules, including renewable fuels and specialty chemicals. Initial work resulted in microbial strains that generated artemisinic acid, a precursor of the antimalarial therapy artemisinin. The firm’s portfolio currently includes products based on the hydrocarbon Biofene (trans-β-farnasene).

“In support of DARPA’s Living Foundries program we will leverage our technology expertise to develop improved DNA assembly and rapid integration across complex biological platforms,” remarks John Melo, Amyris president and CEO.

Synthetic Biology Explained

Synthetic biology is poised combine with engineering and computer technology to usher in an era of programmable biological systems that have the potential to transform a vast array of industries, including agriculture, medicine, ecology, pharmaceuticals, and materials science.

DARPA’s Living Foundries program aims to establish an engineering framework for biology that will speed the development of biologically manufactured products and extend the complexity of biological systems that can be engineered. As part of the program, in September 2011 the agency made a call for “innovative proposals to develop new tools, technologies and methodologies to transform biology into an engineering practice, speeding the biological design-build-test cycle, and expanding the complexity of systems that can be engineered.”

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