Synthetic Cell Divides Like Normal - 2021.04.02

Plus: Other news and company updates in synthetic biology.

This will be the last newsletter for a few weeks, as I take some time to relax away from work and school. Look out for a triumphant return in May.

☀️ Good morning.

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.

—John Muir

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📰 Bioengineering in the News

Take a break from your work, even if only for an hour.

MINIMAL CELL: In 2016, researchers at the J. Craig Venter created a “minimal bacterial genome” with 473 genes. Cells carrying that genome, though, divided abnormally, producing weirdly-shaped daughter cells. Now, for a paper in Cell, researchers have followed up that earlier work, finding that the addition of just 7 genes — some with unknown functions — leads to synthetic cells that undergo “normal cell division.” NIST.gov. Link (Also covered in LiveScience, Science Magazine and New Scientist.)

FROG XENOBOTS: Researchers have made “biological robots,” in a petri dish, from frog cells. The so-called xenobots form spontaneously, without “scaffolds or microprinting,” and can swim around using cilia on their surface and heal themselves after damage. The work was reported in Science Robotics. Watch the video —> Quanta Magazine. Link (Also covered in New Scientist and Inverse.)

BREWING BIOTECH: You don’t have to be a scientist to be “in biotech.” You can also make beer at home, learning about fermentation and microbiology along the way. Bioeconomy.xyz. Link

GAMING MEETS SEQUENCING: The demonpore 64™ is the world’s first “molecular gaming console™.” I dug around on the company’s website for awhile, and I’m not sure I understand what this thing does. But I’m intrigued. Link

AAVs ARE A-OK: Remember the bluebird bio clinical trial that was halted in February? Another gene therapy trial for hemophilia was also halted after a patient developed a liver tumor. A new analysis has found that the adeno-associated virus, or AAV, used to deliver that therapy “was very unlikely to have caused” the patient’s liver cancer. Science. Link

BEE-LESS HONEY: Companies like MeliBio, Better Dairy and Clara Foods are making honey and milk using microorganisms. BBC. Link

SHARE THE DATA: Stanford University researchers took some COVID-19 vaccine — Pfizer and Moderna — from discarded vials on campus, sequenced the mRNA, and posted them on GitHub. “The Pfizer sequence is already publicly available … but the Moderna mRNA sequence had not previously been published.” The Guardian. Link

SICK CELLS: Scientists at three universities in California have received U.S. FDA approval to initiate a “first-in-human” clinical trial for sickle cell disease; the therapy involves using CRISPR on the patient’s own sick cells to correct the genetic disorder. UCSF.edu. Link

SOIL + CO2: An Australian startup, called Soil Carbon Co., is bathing seeds in microbes and fungi to help trap more atmospheric carbon underground. WIRED. Link

AI MEETS BIO: The Broad Institute, at Harvard and MIT, received $150 million from the Schmidt family to found a new research center that will “explore the intersection of machine learning and biotechnology.” The Harvard Crimson. Link

BIDEN BILLIONS: President Biden has proposed investing $250 billion into U.S. research. Most of that money would go towards climate technologies and job creation in rural areas, with $50 billion slated for the National Science Foundation, and $40 billion to upgrade federal research facilities. Science. Link

RAISE THE ROOF: The science committee within the U.S. House of Representatives has plans to “more than double” the current National Science Foundation budget, from “$8.5 billion to $18.3 billion in 2026.” The proposal has bipartisan support. Science. Link

HORIZON EUROPE: The European Union’s new program, called Horizon Europe, will give €95.5 billion in research funding over the next seven years. The group also has dedicated funds for “cancer, climate, oceans, future cities, and soil and food security,” according to reporting by Nature. Link

WHO REPORT: The WHO report on the origins of SARS-CoV-2, released earlier this week, “didn’t include much new information,” according to an article in Nature. Link (Also covered in Science.)

BEST4BIOTECH: The “25 best biotech incubators” in Europe, according to Labiotech.eu. Link

More Stories…

PERU VAX: Researchers in Peru gave COVID-19 vaccines to politicians, other researchers, and “family members who were not enrolled as trial participants,” leading to a wave of resignations. Nature. Link

BIO-ART: Undergraduates at Imperial College made some bio-art. Which one is your favorite? (The mushrooms, bottom left, were the winners according to a very official Twitter poll. I prefer the duck.)


💳Industry Updates

Ecovative Design (Green Island, NY), a company using mycelium to create renewable materials and packaging, raised $60 million in a series D round of funding. PR Newswire. Link

Kilobaser (Graz, Austria), a company that sells benchtop DNA printers, announced that they would begin selling in Japan, through an exclusive distribution deal with a company called Meiwafosis. Kilobaser Press Release. Link

Lava Therapeutics (Utrecht, Netherlands), a company engineering T-cells for cancer therapies, had a $100.5M IPO on the Nasdaq stock market last week. Labiotech.eu. Link

New Equilibrium Biosciences (Cambridge, MA), a company using AI to develop therapies to correct intrinsically disordered proteins implicated in cancers and other diseases, has raised $10 million in seed funding. Endpoints News. Link

Omega Therapeutics (Cambridge, MA), a biotech company developing therapies that tune gene expression by modifying the epigenome, raised $126 million to bring a liver cancer therapy to the clinic. Fierce Biotech. Link

PILI (Lyon, France), a company using synthetic biology to create renewable dyes, raised $4.7 million to scale up their technology. SynBioBeta. Link

Scribe Therapeutics (Alameda, CA), a gene-editing company hoping to treat neurodegeneration and other diseases, has raised $100 million just six months after their $20 million series A funding round. Fierce Biotech. Link


🔬Jobs

Are you hiring? Reply to this email and I’ll add your listing here.

The Schaerli lab at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, is looking for a PhD student who will build and characterize synthetic (CRISPR-based) gene regulatory networks for spatiotemporal pattern formation in populations of E. coli cells. Link

Imperial College and the University of Manchester have three synthetic biology PhD (1+3 year) projects available for their BioDesign Engineering program, starting in October 2021. Link

Engineer yeast at the University of Edinburgh. Funded PhD project for European / UK students. Link

Have a good weekend,

— Niko

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Thanks for reading Cell Crunch, part of Bioeconomy.XYZ. If you enjoy this newsletter, please share it with a friend or colleague. A version of these newsletters is also posted on Medium. Reach me with tips and feedback on Twitter @NikoMcCarty or via email.