Life Technologies’ Recent Deals Reflect $100M Initiative in Synthetic Biology

10/1/10Follow @bvbigelow

Back on May 28th, Carlsbad, CA-based Life Technologies (NASDAQ: LIFE) said it had agreed to pay approximately $47 million in cash to acquire a 74 percent stake in Geneart, a German company that specializes in making synthetic genes.

Less than a week later, Life announced that it had made an undisclosed investment (which later turned out to be $10 million) in Synthetic Genomics, the San Diego startup working to develop gasoline and other biofuels from genetically engineered algae.

A couple of other announcements followed in August and September. First, Life Technologies and SG Biofuels of Encinitas, CA, announced that they had completed sequencing the genome of the Jatropha curcas plant, which produces a walnut-size oil seed that can be used to make biofuels. And then, a few weeks later, SG Biofuels revealed that it had raised $9.4 million in a Series A round of venture funding that included Life Technologies.

Connecting the dots, it’s apparent that Life Technologies has decided to make some inroads in the emerging business of synthetic biology and algae-based biofuels. It’s also unlikely that a company that generated $3.3 billion in sales last year would make such a move lightly. So I arranged an interview with Nathan Wood, a vice president of genomics who is part of the company’s Molecular Biology Systems division.

In a nutshell, Wood says Life Technologies wants to do the same thing for synthetic biology that it has done for genomics—Life Technologies has become a global biotech by supplying the laboratory instruments, services, and supplies that scientists need to analyze the genetic code of any organism. Wood explained that the company near San Diego now wants to supply the tools that scientists need to assemble snippets of genetic code to create new organisms “so researchers won’t have to go somewhere else to get the tools they need.”

To accomplish this goal, Wood says Life decided in 2008 to undertake a $100 million initiative focused on synthetic biology. In 2009, the company began … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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