Tech companies are ramping up to bring more fungus among us for sustainable food, chemicals, & meds

Fungi really have the potential to be the life of the party when it comes to sustainable technologies.


Closeup image of Aspergillus Niger spores whose applications are being researched by the startup DutchDNA, which was recently acquired by Ginkgo Bioworks. Image credit: Flickr/Yale Rosen


They’ve got applications in everything from food (like Atlast and Meati Foods), clothes (MycoWorks, Bolt Threads, Modern Meadow and Ecovative Design) and their enzymes and proteins can potentially be used to recycle plastics, make chemicals, and novel biomaterials.


At least that’s what the big, Boston-based biotech business Ginkgo Bioworks is hoping to get from their acquisition of a small Dutch company creatively called Dutch DNA.


The Dutch company has been working on a few commercial applications of its technology, including developing enzymes that can recycle mattresses; break down cellulosic material to produce sugars that can be turned into chemicals; and create novel biomaterials based on chitin — the substance that gives shellfish their shells and can be found in some fungi.


Spun out as a company in 2015, after 30 years inside the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research, Dutch DNA makes enzymes, proteins, and organic acids from filamentous fungi — which can be used in everything from laundry detergent to food proteins.


“Where software platforms lean on a codebase of Software Development Kits (SDKs), you can think of cell programming platforms using Cell Development Kits (CDKs) to enable new applications,” said Jason Kelly, CEO of Ginkgo Bioworks in a statement. “This technology could have applications across a wide range of industries, including more efficient and sustainable production of plant-based foods, low-energy laundry detergents, pharmaceutical manufacturing and more.”


Ginkgo’s acquisition comes as more investors are spending more time and money on bioproduction for a wide array of applications.


In April Modern Meadow raised $130 million from outside investors including Key Partners Capital, Astanor Ventures, Horizons Ventures, and others.


The company told Business of Fashion at the time that the new money would be used to commercialize Modern Meadow’s “biofabrication” technology, which replaces fossil fuel-based textile coatings and enhances the performance of natural materials.


Those applications sound suspiciously similar to the kinds of research that Dutch DNA was doing with its (incredibly well-named) FunChi project.


Meanwhile, Ecovative Design raised another $60 million in March for its own spin on how to bring a fungus among us.


That New York-based company said at the time of its funding that it wanted to be the Ginkgo Bioworks of the mushroom world — well, now Ginkgo Bioworks may be looking to give the company a run for its money.

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