Zymergen | What to know about this biotechnology company 

by Precious Cyprain
4 mins read
Zymergen and ginkgo Bioworks

About Zymergen  

Zymergen is an American biotechnology company that uses machine learning, genomics, Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation to research and engineer genetically modified microorganisms for industrial applications. Zymergen was founded in 2013 by Jed Dean, Josh Hoffman and Zach Serber. It is an American biotech company based in Emeryville, California.  

Zymergen uses advanced manufacturing technologies to design and build microorganisms that produce chemicals used in manufacturing pharmaceuticals and consumer goods in industries. It renders services like creating new microbial strains or modifying the cost efficiency of existing strains for biotechnology industries in order to manufacture food additives, food, chemicals and other materials using those microbes. They implement an extensive database of proprietary digital and physical DNA libraries for their services.  

Zymergen’s automated work process has improved the designing, creating and modification of these microbial strains to a much higher scale and efficiency. Also, the integration of big data analysis into its operations gives it efficiency in handling information as it is brought in.  

Zymergen implements the Darwinian selection of genetically engineered microorganisms for its operations on microbial strains. It has worked not only with the traditional E. coli and S. cerevisiae bacterial species but also with gram-positive bacteria, gram-negative bacteria and fungi. 

History of Zymergen 

In the year 2013 when they were founded, Zymergen raised $2 million. In 2016, it raised $130 million from Softbank’s vision fund. $400 million was raised in 2018 and $300 million in 2020. Through these years they were able to secure big industrial customers such as DARPA and Fortune 500 and acquire a metagenomics research company named Radiant Genomics.  

The acquisition of Radiant Genomics added genetic libraries and metagenomic technologies to Zymergen’s core platform, thereby, helping it enhance its abilities to search, identify and develop useful molecules and microorganisms.  

In December 2020, Zymergen released its first product, Hyaline, which is a thin flexible optical polymer film biologically manufactured for use with consumer electronic displays such as tablets and smartphones. Whereas in 2021, it reported the technical issues most of its potential customers encountered trying to implement Hyaline in their manufacturing process. Proper performance checks weren’t done on the product to determine how their industrial customers would use it before it was released.  

Although Zymergen’s first product was focused and marketed to the electronics industry, they also work with different other industrial sectors such as agriculture, chemicals, etc, to create new products and processes.  

In July 2021, it was revealed that Zymergen struggled with its production of Hyaline which led to a sharp decrease in its market capitalization when it went public with the news of how it lost $262 million the previous year. This financial crisis took a big hit on the company, and it implemented plans to cut costs such as dismissing hundreds of employees, renegotiating loans and having to restructure lease expenses for office spaces.  

Also, in 2021, the co-founder and CEO, Josh Hoffman, resigned and was replaced with the current Zymergen’s chairman and acting CEO, Jay Flatley, who was the former CEO of Illumina Inc. Jed Dean, Zymergen’s founder, also left the company afterwards. 

Zymergen publicly announced giving up the manufacturing of Hyaline in November 2021 and expressed its new focus on the development of vaccines and drugs.

The acquisition by Ginkgo Bioworks 

Zymergen became a subsidiary company in July 2022 after being acquired by its parent company, Ginkgo Bioworks, for $300 million in an all-stock deal. Ginkgo Bioworks acknowledged Zymergen as their largest acquisition to date and expressed their expectations of the enhancements Zymergen would bring to their platform through its automation and software capabilities. 

Ginkgo Bioworks also acknowledged the pool of experience from Zymergen that it would benefit diverse biological engineering approaches. They proposed an exploration of new partnerships for the various product concepts still under development at Zymergen.  

Before the acquisition of Zymergen, Ginkgo Bioworks and Zymergen were competitors in their field as they both genetically engineered microbes to produce chemicals. Their difference is in their mode of business where Ginkgo Bioworks designs and builds microbial strains for customers who market and sell the microbial products themselves while Zymergen designs and develops molecules, microbes and materials, then market and sell its own products to diverse end markets.

Read more about Zymergen and its acquisition by Ginkgo Bioworks on ginkgobioworks.com

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