motif ingredients

Motif Ingredients Raises $90m Series A to Engineer Alternative Proteins in Ginkgo Bioworks Spin-Out

February 26, 2019

Ginkgo Bioworks, the unicorn startup manufacturing microbes using genetic engineering and fermentation, has spun off its food-related business into a new company called Motif Ingredients.

Motif will focus on providing food companies with ingredients for their growing alternative protein product lines in the plant-based and meat alternative space. It will also use Ginkgo’s science and technology to design and engineer new cells to develop other new food formats.

To build this business, Motif has raised $90 million in Series A funding from a group of high profile financial and strategic investors including Bill Gates and Richard Branson-backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures, global commodity trading house Louis Dreyfus Companies, New Zealand daily cooperative Fonterra, and global asset manager Viking Global Investors.

“This is a huge moment in the protein space, specifically in the animal-free or plant-based area, where consumer demand for plant-based foods such as meat substitutes and plant based beverages grew 17% last year, and that push has really created a lot of interest and buzz,” Jonathan McIntyre, CEO of Motif told AgFunderNews.

“But we are a long way to optimizing the formats, cost, functional performance, nutritional profile, and the taste and texture of these products,” he added.


Using biotechnology and fermentation, Motif will engineer dozens of proteins derived from dairy, egg and meat without compromising the functionality, taste and nutrition of animal-based ingredients, “enabling the current and future generations of these products,” according to McIntyre.

A new paradigm in food formation

It will also accelerate the R&D process for food companies, creating a new paradigm for the development of new food formats, according to McIntyre who has worked at PepsiCo and soy-based ingredient company Solae after an 11-year career as chief scientist of Monsanto’s protein technology department. McIntyre is also no stranger to the microbe space after working at Indigo Agriculture as its head of R&D for just over a year.

“Ginkgo is taking a different approach to the traditional one when looking for new food products that have typically started with the raw material first, such as soy. But now we can change it the other way around and decide what you want to achieve first and then find the ingredient,” he said.

“My time at Indigo Ag was invaluable, and I am grateful for the learnings and experiences I had while there. The opportunity to lead Motif, a company poised to address some of the biggest obstacles in our food system today — scale, accessibility and sustainability — was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.”

Startups working to manufacture animal product alternatives, whether on the plant-based or cell culturing level, could benefit from Motif’s technology as the company aims to be a supplier to any company in this space.

Could this be competitive to the growing number of alternative protein startups?

It is no secret that many alternative protein on the cellular agriculture side, are struggling to bring the cost down of their products to present an affordable alternative to meat, milk and eggs. The main barrier is the cost of the growth media in which to culture or replicate the cells, and startups are dedicating a lot of their time and funding to cracking this piece of the puzzle in the fastest amount of time.

But Jason Kelly, CEO of Ginkgo Bioworks, and McIntyre believe Mofif can enable this sector rather than compete with it.

“Out of the gate, Motif will really be looking to supply ingredients whereas many of those startups are ultimately building consumer products, so we’d be thrilled to work with them,” Kelly of Ginkgo Bioworks told AgFunderNews. “Part of our model is that this sort of biotech work that’s enabling new products will benefit from the centralized infrastructure here, and could effectively enable 100 new Impossible Burgers, or more new milk, new egg companies that need energy at the consumer side to release products onto the market. There’s two different skillsets in these businesses currently: biotech and consumer food experience.”

Could this be competitive to investor Fonterra’s members?

Fonterra, the largest dairy ingredients business and a cooperative of 10,000 dairy farmers, invested in the round after conducting extensive conversations with Ginkgo Bioworks, particularly around plant-based dairy alternatives. “When we think about where we’ll be in 30 years time, we won’t be able to feed the world from traditional food and nutrition sources,” Judith Swales, Fonterra’s chief operating officer, told AgFunderNews. “So we were initially talking to Ginkgo about organism development and the role of fermentation-derived nutrition.”

While there has been a lot of controversy in dairy farming circles around the labeling of milk alternatives as milk, Swales says that Fonterra needs to be proactive, stay ahead of innovation and future proof the cooperative.

“We’re not defensive about this and it doesn’t take our eye off protecting and growing our dairy business. There’s no sign of a cultured milk product coming onto the market soon and if you’re not willing to change, you will be disrupted and we’re adamant we won’t be disrupted but will be part of the future.”

How will Motif work with Ginkgo?

“Ginkgo will provide a set of infrastructure for Motif to do its biotech work which will enable it to get out of the gate a lot faster than if it started from scratch,” said Ginkgo’s Kelly. “Instead of them building a bunch of labs, they can order microbes from our automated farms, and additionally, we can put the IP we’ve developed around food so far into Motif.”

Ginkgo will remain Motif’s majority shareholder and will sell it services at reduced rates, according to Kelly.  And Motif will be based out of Ginkgo’s Boston facility.

Ginkgo, which spun out its agriculture-focused business last year in a joint venture with Bayer called Joyn Bio, will continue manufacturing microbes from other industries such as therapeutics, smart electronics, and any other applications for engineered cells.

“This deal allows Ginkgo to focus on what it’s good at, which is designing cells,” added Kelly. “There are all kinds of things you need to do to bring a food ingredient to market and Motif will be able to focus on that, as well as manufacturing ingredients and working with its suppliers on new ingredients. Motif benefits from all the scale we’re building for serving other markets and as we do more work, it will lower the cost further for Motif and our other customers.”

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