Skip to main content

Biotech Innovators Launch Natural Dye Partnership

A pair of biotech companies wants to help fashion transition away from fossil fuel-based dyes.

Ginkgo Bioworks and Octarine Bio announced a multi-stage partnership Tuesday aimed at using microbial fermentation to engineer a pigment with “potent bioactive” properties.

“Natural colors and dyes constitute a significant and ever-expanding market, especially given the heightened awareness from companies and the concerns of consumers about the harmful effects of conventional manufacturing processes,” Ena Cratsenburg, chief business officer at Boston-based Ginkgo Bioworks, said in a statement. “This is a robust opportunity to contribute to the sustainability of the fashion industry, and we are excited to be working with Octarine as we aim to produce a new class of safer, high-performing colors and dyes that will appeal to consumers and companies worldwide.”

Ginkgo Bioworks describes itself as a “horizontal platform for cell programming” that solves challenges in food, agriculture, pharmaceuticals and other industries. Its other partners include Huue, a biotech company it collaborated with on sustainable indigo dye, and the materials firm Bolt Threads. Copenhagen’s Octarine Bio, meanwhile, develops “synthetic biology platforms” that fast track the development of ingredients for its commercial partners. It offers two flagship products, one which enhances the performance of “high-value ingredients”—primarily cannabinoids—and another that develops natural colors in “currently unavailable color spectra.”

Ginkgo Bioworks’ partnership with Octarine will center around this latter product, with the goal of engineering a strain of tryptophan for producing a naturally occurring bisindole pigment called violacein. This pigment, Ginkgo said, offers antimicrobial, antioxidant and UV-protective properties. Although the partnership will initially focus on violacein, it could expand to other tryptophan-derived compounds, each with unique applications, Ginkgo added.

Related Stories

“We are thrilled to work with Ginkgo to improve the bio-based production process for our tryptophan program, focusing on a class of highly sought after natural colors and dyes in difficult to source color spectra,” Nethaji Gallage, co-founder and CEO at Octarine, said in a statement. “We see tremendous potential to apply these natural pigments as bio-based dyes, one of the fastest growing categories in the global textile market and look forward to leveraging the Ginkgo platform to accelerate its development.”

Earlier this year, French biotech company Pili announced it had raised $15.8 million in Series A funding to help it produce its first tons of high-performance, bio-based indigo. Like Ginkgo and Octarine, it is aiming to replace petro-based indigo with a bio-based alternative.

Ginkgo’s news comes after it recently hired a new finance executive. Steven P. Coen will become chief accounting officer on May 15, taking over from Marie Fallon, who helped the company go public in a 2021 SPAC merger that valued the biotech firm around $15 billion.

“Ginkgo’s track record of scientific innovation is extraordinary, and I’m excited to help build on the strong foundation that Marie has established to give Ginkgo the tools it needs to scale its platform business model,” Coen said in a statement. “It’s clear we’re at an inflection point in the life sciences industry, and I look forward to working with the entire Ginkgo team to help make biology easier to engineer.”