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A utility barge on an oil sands tailing pond in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Photo: Orjan F. Ellingvag/ Dagens Naringsliv/Corbis via Getty Images

A startup that uses synthetic biology to clean up pollution is taking on a $20 million funding round, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Bioremediation offers the possibility of cleaning some of the world's most polluted sites using the power of nature — with a little human engineering.

What's happening: Allonnia, a startup spun off from the synthetic biology leader Ginkgo Bioworks, will be announcing today a $20 million investment from the cleantech fund Evok Innovations.

  • As part of the investment — which brings Allonnia's total financing to $60 million since it's founding last October — Allonnia will acquire the assets of Metabolik Technologies, an Evok portfolio company that uses bioremediation on pollutants created during the development of oil sands.

What they're saying: "The investment is a great fit for Allonnia because we're working on very similar areas in terms of our mission on bioremediation," says Nicole Richards, Allonnia's CEO. "As we learn to do this for one case" — oil sands pollution — "we can begin to apply it to others."

How it works: Bioremediation involves harnessing naturally-occurring microbes to break down difficult-to-treat pollutants in the environment.

  • Allonnia works to identify microbes capable of breaking down waste, then uses the tools of synthetic biology to amplify their abilities both to clean up toxic pollution and bind to valuable materials in the waste stream for reuse.
  • "If designed properly, these microbes will have an affinity towards the contaminants and metabolize them as part of their system," says Richards.

Context: Synthetic biology-influenced bioremediation could be particularly useful for the kind of concentrated, hard-to-treat waste created during mining and energy projects, including Canada's oil sands developments.

"Bioremediation is almost the most natural way to use synthetic biology, because the biology already exists that does the work right. We're just taking what's there and making it more efficient."
— Nicole Richards, Allonnia

Go deeper: The age of engineering life begins

Go deeper

Updated 4 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Updated 19 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Contact tracing fizzles across America — New clues emerge on long COVID — Omicron is finally burning out — It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Virginia AG says public colleges can't mandate COVID vaccines —Alaska governor joins Texas lawsuit over National Guard vaccine mandate — Navy discharges 45 sailors for refusing vaccine — Spotify to remove Neil Young's music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum — White House: 60M households have ordered free COVID-19 rapid tests.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker
3 hours ago - World

Biden will move U.S. troops to Eastern Europe "in the near term"

President Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews on Jan. 28. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said on Friday he plans to move U.S. troops to Eastern European and NATO countries “in the near term.”

Driving the news: “Not too many” U.S. troops, Biden added in remarks to reporters at Joint Base Andrew upon returning from a trip to Pennsylvania.