Winnipeg Free Press Newspaper Archives Apr 4 2015, Page 78

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Winnipeg Free Press (Newspaper) - April 4, 2015, Winnipeg, Manitoba C M Y K PAGE D10 PHOTO COURTESY OF GINKGO BIOWORKS The Ginkgo Bioworks team, co- founded by Tom Knight ( centre), at its Boston facility, which is referred to as the ‘ first organism engineering foundry.’ RICKY CARIOTI / THE WASHINGTON POST It’s all about the bass. Seth Robertson extinguishes a fire using low- range bass frequency. 49.8 ¢ª sci tech SATURDAY, APRIL 4, 2015 D10 N EW YORK — Thanks to recent advances in synthetic biology — a hybrid discipline of engineering and biology that makes possible the manipulation of DNA of microorganisms such as yeast, bacteria, fungi and algae — a new generation of “ organism engineers” has already started experimenting with the creation of new flavours and ingredients. In doing so, they have the potential to transform synthetic biology into a new creative platform to enable chefs, bakers or brewers to create new flavour profiles for food and drink. Imagine being able to create the next acclaimed ingredient that makes foods more savoury, harnessing the power of the “ noble rot” to make a wine the equal of a bottle of Château d’Yquem, or fermenting a new cheese that has more flavour complexity than Roquefort. Creative types in foodie capitals around the nation would no doubt be interested in experimenting with these new products and tastes, just as visionary chefs Ferran Adrià, Wylie Dufresne and Grant Achatz experimented with the molecular gastronomy trend when it first started to go mainstream. One company at the forefront of using synthetic biology to create new types of “ cultured ingredients” is Ginkgo Bioworks, a Boston- based start- up that emerged from Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator ( the same incubator that gave us Airbnb and Dropbox). The company comes with a pretty impressive innovation pedigree — the company’s co- founder is Tom Knight, the MIT legend who played an important role during the 1960s and 1970s in the development of ARPANET, a precursor to the modern Internet. Knight then reinvented his career trajectory using biology, and by 2012, Fast Company was calling him the “ godfather of synthetic biology.” Backed by $ 9 million in new venture capital financing, Ginkgo has opened up a new 18,000- squarefoot facility in Boston — a facility that the company refers to as the “ first organism engineering foundry” in the world. By taking advantage of softwaredirected robots, the plan is to scale up the production of engineered organisms that could eventually be used to make anything from designer fragrances to cheap biofuels. Unlike traditional factories, which one could imagine churning out huge vats of yeast, Ginkgo’s foundry has a wide range of test samples being refined at any time, none of them larger than a bottle of water. As Patrick Boyle, an organism designer at Ginkgo, told me, the company’s current showcase product is a “ cultured rose product” that can be used to make new designer perfumes. Rather than relying on chemistry to create “ rose mimics” artificially from a handful of chemicals or crushing 1,000 or more rose petals to make a single vial of rose oil naturally, Ginkgo is choosing a third way: using yeast to ferment these rose oils, which can then be used to create unique new perfume fragrances. The start- up says its method is more cost- effective, and provides a distinct scent. And the same technology used to create new fragrances could also be used to create new food flavours by genetically modifying microbes. The most likely suspects, of course, are those food products that heavily rely on fermentation for their distinctive taste — think cheese, pickles, bread, beer, wine and yogurt. But that’s not all — there are at least 24 different types of food that result from fermentation — including some that have become favourites with the foodie set: kombucha, charcuterie and miso. Even coffee and chocolate can be considered “ fermented food.” However, let’s step back a second. The idea that some companies are messing around with the DNA of microbes, storing vast quantities of designer organisms in a factory, and having robots mix together product samples understandably makes some people nervous. Obviously, there are a number of concerns about synthetic biology, especially in an era when even the mention of genetically modified organisms ( GMOs) tends to freak people out. But these concerns are largely overwrought. Synthetic ingredients are actually more “ natural” than the artificial ingredients found in stores. There are no genetically modified organisms in the final food product — the “ engineered organisms” are only used in the fermentation process as a raw material to help make the final product. The really interesting part is how the synthetic biology work at Ginkgo has been inspired by the early days of computer programming. Ginkgo is essentially programming organisms, getting them to behave the same way as one might a piece of computer code. Knight, who started in MIT’s artificial intelligence and computer science program, has suggested that learning how to program organisms is more fascinating than the ability to program computers. In many ways, says Boyle, Ginkgo’s goal is “ partnering with creative people to bring biology to them.” Ginkgo is a technology company and is run by technologists — but it could also become a new creative platform to empower tech- savvy bakers, chefs and brewers to isolate and use interesting new flavour profiles. Five or maybe 10 years from now, when you arrive at a restaurant, check the menu. You might find the term “ engineered organism” next to foodie epithets such as “ farm- raised” or “ cage- free” or “ wild- caught.” The humble microbe — so often blamed for the spoiling of food — might actually be praised for unlocking the hidden potential of food. Dominic Basulto is a futurist and blogger based in New York. — The Washington Post Sweet, delicious, non- deadly antifreeze is just around the corner. And that’s a good thing. The antifreeze that keeps our cars running through winter is made of the incredibly toxic ethylene glycol, an odourless liquid with a sweet taste that tempts children and animals, then causes symptoms that start off like alcohol intoxication and end with kidney failure. Researchers at ACTA Technology have proposed a new alternative adapted from a common food additive. In addition to being safer — as well as cheaper to dispose of because it’s nontoxic — the patented product may even be more efficient than the poisonous standard. Propylene glycol is already “ generally recognized as safe” by the FDA, and it’s used as an additive in foods and cosmetics. — The Washington Post F AIRFAX, Va. — It happens so quickly you almost don’t believe it: Seth Robertson and Viet Tran ignite a fire, snap on their low- rumbling bass frequency generator and extinguish the flames in seconds. And even after you’ve seen it over and over, it’s still unbelievable. But the two senior engineering majors at George Mason University appear to have invented and built a way to use sound waves to put out fires. It started as an idea for a senior research project, and after a year of trial and error and spending about US$ 600 of their own money, they have built a somewhat portable sound generator, amplifier, power source and focusing tube that would seem to have great potential in attacking fires in a variety of situations. Robertson, 23, and Tran, 28, applied for a provisional patent at the end of November, which gives them a year to do further testing on other flammable chemicals — so far they have put out only fires started with rubbing alcohol — and to continue to refine their device. Although they originally conceived of the device as a way to put out kitchen fires and, perhaps, fires in spacecraft, a local fire department already has asked them to test their bass waves on a structure fire; they think the concept could replace the toxic and messy chemicals involved in fire extinguishers. Robertson and Tran are electrical and computer engineering majors, and the idea for their senior project came about only because they didn’t like the ideas that their professors had proposed. The basic concept, Tran said, is that sound waves are also “ pressure waves, and they displace some of the oxygen” as they travel through the air. Oxygen, we all recall from high school chemistry, fuels fire. At a certain frequency, the sound waves “ separate the oxygen ( in the fire) from the fuel. The pressure wave is going back and forth, and that agitates where the air is. That specific space is enough to keep the fire from reigniting.” So the trial and error began. They placed flaming rubbing alcohol next to a large subwoofer and found that it wasn’t necessarily all about that bass, musically speaking, at least. “ Music isn’t really good,” Robertson said, “ because it doesn’t stay consistent.” They tried ultra- high frequencies, such as 20,000 or 30,000 hertz, and could see the flames vibrating but not going out. They took it down low, and at the range of 30 to 60 hertz, the fires began to extinguish. “ I honestly didn’t think it would work as well as it did,” Tran said. Although the students originally envisioned their device as a tool to attack kitchen fires and to eliminate the toxic monoammonium phosphate used in commercial fire extinguishers, they can see more uses: in confined areas in space, or wide areas outdoors, such as forest fires. Not having to use water or foam would be a bonus in many situations. Kenneth E. Isman, a clinical professor in the University of Maryland’s fire- protection engineering department, said the question of scale is important. “ It’s one thing to put out a tiny fire in a pan,” Isman said. “ But how much power would you need to deal with a couch or bed on fire?” The project also would have to address different types of fires — solid combustibles such as wood, paper or metals, or electrical equipment — and keep a fire from reigniting. “ One of the problems with sound waves is that they do not cool the fuel,” Isman said. “ So even if you get the fire out, it will rekindle if you don’t either take away the fuel or cool it.” — The Washington Post BY TOM JACKMAN SILENCING FIRES WITH SOUND DNA engineering could lead to new food tastes and ingredients HIDDEN FLAVOURS A SAFER ALTERNATIVE TO ANTIFREEZE BY DOMINIC BASULTO D_ 10_ Apr- 04- 15_ FF_ 01. indd D10 4/ 1/ 15 7: 00: 01 PM

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