Bioengineered spores could trace the next food outbreak - 2021.01.22

Plus: Other biotechnology news you might have missed.

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First stories, then industry updates.

Foodborne illnesses kill about 3,000 Americans each year, and it can take weeks for investigators at the FDA or USDA to identify the source of a pathogen. A company called Aanika Biosciences has been rolling out bioengineered spores—with unique, genetic signatures—that cling to plants and can be used to trace food. But even if the technology works, they’ll have to win over skeptical consumers and farmers fearful of how that tracing data will be used. My first story for The Counter. Link

  • Another article this week on this spore-tracing technology. Fast Company. Link

On Monday, I briefly mentioned a new study from Harris Wang’s group at Columbia; they used a mixture of electric shocks, CRISPR, and clever engineering to directly convert digital information —> DNA storage. Emily Mullin takes a much deeper look at those research findings for Future Human. Link

In a recent study, Virginijus Šikšnys’ lab tested out 79 different Cas9 orthologs in the lab, unearthing a broad range of PAM-recognition sequences and other peculiarities in how these ‘DNA cutters’ work. My favorite Cas9 in the article? A thermotolerant version from a microbe dwelling in a Yellowstone geyser! I wrote about it for Scientific American. Link

With two COVID-19 vaccines approved in the US, and more in the pipeline, clinical trials have been brought to the forefront of our global consciousness. Kathryn Hamilton interviewed Sara Menso, Associate Director of Innovation and Business Strategy at AstraZeneca, to provide a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to manage the logistical maze of a clinical trial. Bioeconomy.XYZ. Link

The National Academy of Sciences announced a slew of awards, including one for Feng Zhang, “for pioneering achievements developing CRISPR tools with the potential to diagnose and treat disease,” and another for Peter Schultz, “for pioneering chemical and synthetic biology to address challenges in health, energy, and materials science.” Link

An article on a peculiar subject: the story of how animal advocates “inadvertently” helped launch the creation of synthetic rennet (used in curdling milk for cheese). Medium. Link

On January 8, in Cell, scientists at Johns Hopkins showed how a component of CRISPR-Cas9 acts “as a genetic dimmer switch”. When they deleted that gene, they observed a “dramatic increase in the activity of the system in bacteria,” suggesting that the deleted component serves to suppress the system. Read more about that study in this Hopkins Medicine article (Press Release). Link

This is bizarre—entire organelles, in some grafted plants, can move through the cell wall and enter cells from an entirely different plant species. Quanta Magazine. Link

As the pace of vaccine injections (hopefully) ramps up in the U.S., I found this article on Ben Franklin’s transition from skeptic to vaccine advocate enlightening, and entirely refreshing. Think of it as a science reading treat that doesn’t cause undue stress. Forbes. Link

Eli Lilly’s lab-made, monoclonal antibody, called bamlanivimab, “prevented Covid-19 infections in nursing home residents and staff in a clinical trial, the first time such a treatment has been shown to prevent infection.” That’s quite an achievement, and may add to the growing roster of tools to slow the pandemic. STAT. Link

A company called Gritstone Oncology told STAT that they would begin testing “an experimental Covid-19 vaccine” that could, potentially, ward off new strains of SARS-CoV-2 not prevented by current FDA-approved vaccines. STAT. Link

A lengthy article about synthetic biology, and how it’s being used to clean up water. Lots of companies mentioned here, including Aquaporin and Puraffinity (formerly Customem). Link

Last week, I mentioned that Eligo Bioscience raised $185M from GSK. Read more about that story, and how CRISPR is being explored as a treatment for acne, in this article by Kostas Vasitvas. Link

Benchling, the digital platform for designing molecular biology experiments and designing DNA, announced that they doubled their annual recurring revenue for the fourth year in a row, despite the pandemic. SynBioBeta (Press Release). Link

Beam Therapeutics, the Harvard spinout developing base editing for genetic therapies, announced a $260M common stock investment (in other words, they are selling nearly 3 million shares of their common stock “to certain institutional investors in a private placement”). SynBioBeta (Press Release). Link

Evolva launched L-arabinose. Commonly found in plant polysaccharides, the sugar is made from fermentation in a process that “is fully renewable and sustainable.” SynBioBeta (Press Release). Link

A company called Earli raised $40M in a series A round. They are developing a technology that uses genetic constructs to “force” cancer cells to produce biomarkers, somehow enabling them to be precisely located in the human body. In a press release, the company said that the technology “will allow clinicians to exactly locate early cancers so they can be treated.” SynBioBeta (Press Release). Link

See you Monday for the research newsletter.


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