Genes × Jeans: Accelerating Production of Sustainable Dyes with Huue

Blue jeans — a staple in many people’s wardrobes — are worn around the world. Billions of pairs are produced annually, and a key component is the dye responsible for their iconic color: indigo. A rich blue hue, it’s what makes a pair of jeans instantly recognizable. Much of today’s indigo dye is chemically synthesized instead of being sourced from the various plants that produce it. (Fun fact: plants aren’t the only biological source of indigo dye; some marine animals like mollusks produce it too!) Unfortunately, the most commonly used chemical manufacturing process for making indigo is responsible for over 1.4 million metric tons of CO₂ and utilizes toxic chemicals including benzene, formaldehyde, and sodamide.

Thankfully, we can turn to synthetic biology to give us another way to make this valuable dye. Microbes — just like plants and other organisms — can produce indigo dye. All they need is the right code. Our newest partner Huue is a biotech startup that’s programming microbes to produce sustainable dyes like indigo for the fashion industry and beyond.

Huue plans to leverage Ginkgo’s platform to optimize the production of microbial strains capable of producing sustainable dyes such as indigo.

Using its proprietary biosynthetic dye-making process, Huue produces indigo that’s just as effective as conventional solutions — without the environmental impact and harmful chemicals. The Huue team plans to leverage our microbial engineering platform, including our strain optimization capabilities, to improve their microbial strains. Huue’s goal is to accelerate production of their dyes for their first partners in 2021 and 2022.

Ginkgo serves customers across industries who are seeking to develop new and better products using biology. We’re thrilled to welcome Huue onto our platform and are excited to work on their product-focused cell programs. We believe that synthetic biology has incredible power to help virtually any industry reimagine how they approach product innovation and enable teams to bring sustainable practices to historically toxic manufacturing processes. We’re honored to be able to support innovators like Huue develop and grow their cell programs that are helping build a more sustainable world.

Michelle Zhu, the CEO and co-founder at Huue shared our excitement: “We’re excited to work with a sustainability-minded company like Ginkgo Bioworks to bring the world’s first sustainable and scalable indigo to the denim industry. The planet can’t wait any longer for sustainable solutions, and it’s through partnerships like this one that we’re accelerating the production of our bio-based dyes for the industries that need them the most.”

Organizations, government agencies, and companies across numerous industries use Ginkgo’s cell programming platform to find more effective, environmentally friendly ways to create products including food ingredients, fragrances, cosmetics, medicines, and more. By enabling the design of organisms that can produce valuable biological products, Ginkgo helps accelerate the development of innovative, bio-based solutions to the world’s most pressing environmental challenges.

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