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Ginkgo finding success in doing what comes naturally

Imagine a world created by man's design. That's the focus of Boston biotech Ginkgo Bioworks. The company has tapped into one of the fastest-growing areas of tech right now: synthetic biology. Started by a team of MIT scientists and launched out of Y Combinator, it has developed a technology that uses yeast as a base to make all kinds of substances — including perfumes, cosmetics and sweeteners — from microbugs. Ginkgo Bioworks can use this technology across a whole host of consumer and industrial products enabling customers to grow rather than manufacture better products.

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"We basically learn from what's going on out in nature," CEO Jason Kelly told CNBC's Squawk Box. "So we look at the geno of a rose plant to find the genes that would encode that fragrance. We learn from that, and then we write the DNA. So in 2017 we will write 600 million letters of DNA."

The private company, No. 7 on the 2017 CNBC Disruptor 50 list, is among those that make synthetic biology financially attractive to investors hoping for big returns on genetically modified yeast products. Since its founding in 2008, the start-up has raised $154 million from such notables as Cascade Investment (Bill Gates' asset management firm) and Allen & Co.

Earlier this year, the company bought one of its biggest synthetic DNA suppliers, Boston-based Gen9. Investors are optimistic the purchase will allow Ginkgo to lower costs (no more markups to pay) and reduce the risk of not having an adequate supply. The acquisition will also enable the company's next-generation automated foundry — Bioworks2 — to significantly speed up the process of organism design.

In the last year, Ginkgo has moved into a number of new markets, including electronics, pharmaceuticals and agriculture, said Kelly. "We have a project working with Dharpa. ... We're engineering the microbes that live in your gut and using that to fend off certain types of infectious diseases. So you can imagine in the future we'll have living medicines that you can use to combat a variety of diseases."

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