Generating diverse genomes to scale and digitalize biomanufacturing.
Evolution takes time. For thousands of years, humans have sought to speed it up, adapting organisms to our needs through selective breeding, husbandry, and the occasional happy accident (bread, wine or penicillin). But biomanufacturing remains rudimentary. Even today’s sophisticated synthetic biology factories predominantly rely on simple, well-characterized, organisms—discovered, for the most part, through luck. “Our current tools are constricted,” says Jing Zhang, co-founder and CEO of Anthology. “We are barely even scratching the surface of nature’s biosynthetic diversity.”
Anthology, a Cambridge, MA-based startup with roots at MIT, Boston University, and Harvard, is unlocking new possibilities for biomanufacturing by accelerating the speed of genetic mutation and selection. Rather than generate diversity using rational modification (a few genes at a time), or chemical mutagenesis (a few point mutations at a time), Anthology’s techniques enable mutational capacity beyond existing scales and complexities. Using proprietary hardware and custom digital tools, Anthology is building an integrated platform that rapidly selects and screens these variants, to identify new workhorses for bioproduction that overcome the persistent challenges of expensive feedstocks, low yields, and cumbersome processing. “By generating highly diversified genomes, we are drastically increasing our odds of landing on phenotypes that can transform biomanufacturing,” explains co-founder Tzu-Chieh (Zijay) Tang. “Instead of buying ten tickets for the genetic lottery, we can buy a billion.”
Anthology supercharges existing methods of lab evolution by combining novel genome diversification tools with automated selection and screening. Their candidate host organisms are far broader than the current industry standards, and each can be further diversified, to present a wider range of potential biosynthetic factories. Anthology then applies a range of innovative selection and screening tools to identify target organisms that are modified at the protein level, the pathway level, and the genome level. “Individual mutations are really not getting biomanufacturing where we need it to be,” says Tang. “So we are creating diversity and selecting the best candidates in a more systematic way.”
With data collected from these expanded diversification and selection efforts, Anthology aims to build new computational and—eventually—constructive tools. Their vision is to develop the ability to craft and design functional genomes from scratch, to create novel organisms that can expand synthetic biology’s product categories beyond existing high value biomolecules. “By generating wildly diverse genomes, we take a step towards digitizing biomanufacturing,” says Zhang. “Anthology’s tools can help unlock the full breadth and scale of the future bio-economy—delivering sustainable and cost-effective chemicals, materials, food, enzymes or biologics.”