We sampled fragrances made from microbes and we're convinced they're the future of the industry

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” or so said Shakespeare.

But what if that smell didn’t come from a rose, but instead from baker’s yeast?

Boston-based startup Ginkgo Bioworks is doing just that — tinkering with the genes of yeast — the microscopic fungus that makes bread rise — to make it produce the sweet, musky smell of a rose and other scents.

Eventually, the company hopes to sell these fragrances to perfume makers as a replacement for natural or synthetic scents, Christina Agapakis, creative director of Ginkgo Bioworks, told Business Insider at Biofabricate, a conference about biology, art, and design held this month in New York City.

Most perfumes today are either natural, meaning they come from plants or animal secretions, or synthetic, meaning they’re made by scientists in a lab. 

By contrast, the fragrances made by Ginkgo Bioworks are produced by genetically modified yeast. “Yeast is really great, because we know how to brew with yeast,” Agapakis said.

Rose scent is the only one the company has publically announced, but they had several others on display at Biofabricate, including grape and several other floral scents, which were pretty convincing.

The chemical process to make these scents is fairly complex, but it’s part of the fermentation process all yeast use to turn sugars into alcohol and other compounds.

And they’re working on more than fragrances. Ginkgo Bioworks is also getting into the field of probiotics — cultivating the “good” microbes that keep our digestive system healthy, instead of letting “bad” bacteria like Clostridium difficile from running rampant and making us sick.

Ginkgo wasn’t the first to engineer a microbe to produce a nice-smelling scent. In 2006, a team of MIT students made bacteria that smelled like wintergreen or banana.

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