Seattle startup raises $12M to ‘rewrite the software of life’ (with a little help from the technology behind beer)

Growler and beer. Photo via Kurt Schlosser

Arzeda designs custom molecules for use in manufacturing, agriculture and more. Building each molecule requires a complex path of biological engineering, shown above. (Arzeda Photo)

Proteins are incredibly important, but incredibly complicated, molecules. They control 98 percent of all biological functions and are used in industries from manufacturing to agriculture.

(Kurt Schlosser photo)

Seattle-based synthetic biology startup Arzeda has spent the last nine years developing the technology to build custom proteins and other molecules that can do things like grow cheaper food, make tougher nylon and even build stronger plexiglass. The company announced Thursday that it has raised its first round of venture funding with a $12 million Series A, led by the OS Fund.

The technology behind Arzeda traces its roots to a delicious beverage that many of us love: beer.

“The exact same process used to make beer can be altered to ferment sugars and other renewable resources such as agricultural waste into a plethora of valuable chemicals, provided that we can reliably design and manipulate novel metabolic pathways that convert the starting material (feedstock) into the ultimate desired product,” the company writes on its Web site.

Arzeda describes its custom protein development as “rewriting the technology of life,” basically designing proteins that can make new manufacturing and biological feats possible.

The enzyme RA61, designed using Arzeda’s cloud-based platform. (Arzeda Photo)

The company starts the process by designing proteins using its software platform. Its cloud-fueled technology can run through trillions of possible molecules and come up with a handful of ones that may work for a certain job.

Each protein has dozens of unique parts that make it act a certain way, and each of those parts need to be chemically synthesized with precise engineering. Because proteins are so complex, they can’t just be cooked up in a beaker.

Instead, Arzeda has to code genetic material that instructs a cell on how to make the protein. Those genetic instructions are then inserted into a batch of yeast or other small organisms which make the protein using the process of fermentation. The company then tests the different proteins in its lab and finds the right one for the job.

The company said the new funding will help it scale up that process significantly.

“With this Series A funding, we will be able to expand the throughput capacity of our protein design platform and deploy a robust product development pipeline. From concept to industrial-scale production, Arzeda’s existing and new partners will be able to leverage protein design to make better, more sustainable chemicals, food and feed ingredients, materials, and even new molecules that are not found in nature,” Arzeda Co-Founder and CEO Alex Zanghellini said in a press release.

The company is already working with high-profile clients like materials manufacturer DuPont to design proteins that change the makeup of plants and materials.

Arzeda was founded in 2008 by Drs. Alex Zanghelini, Eric Althoff, Daniela Grabs and David Baker based on work by the University of Washington’s Institute for Protein Design, which Baker directs. He also serves on the company’s board of scientific advisors, while the other three co-founders are all executives at the company.

As part of the recent funding, OS Co-Founder Jeff Klunzinger will join Arzeda’s board. The round also includes Bioeconomy Capital, Sustainable Conversion Ventures and WRF Capital, who invested Arzeda’s seed fund of just $250,000.