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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

Netanyahu uses last speech as prime minister to attack Biden on Iran

Netnayahu addreses the Knesset. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty

Hours before a vote to oust him, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused President Biden of endangering Israel's security by taking a soft line on Iran, and claimed the man who is about to replace him, Naftali Bennett, would be too weak to stand up to Washington.

Why it matters: Netanyahu had waged a desperate but apparently unsuccessful campaign to stop a "change coalition" from joining together to replace him after an inconclusive election in March. Facing an imminent demotion to opposition leader, he foreshadowed a willingness to damage the U.S.-Israel relationship to put his rival under pressure.

32 mins ago - World

G7 leaders agree to call out China's “nonmarket policies and human rights abuses"

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrive at Cornwall Airport Newquay to give a press conference on the final day of the G7 summit on June 13, 2021. Photo: Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP via Getty Images

Group of Seven leaders on Sunday announced they have agreed work together to challenge China’s “non-market economic practices” and to press Beijing to respect human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

Why it matters: President Biden went into the summit hoping to present a united front against Beijing.

Study: Key Antarctic ice shelf is speeding up its collapse

Pine Island Glacier calves several new icebergs on Feb. 11, 2020, as seen via satellite. Photo: NASA Earth Observatory

The Pine Island Glacier on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is responsible for more than a quarter of Antarctica's contribution to global sea level rise over the past decades. Now, a new study shows it is more vulnerable to rapid melting than thought, because climate change is weakening its natural braking system.

Why it matters: At stake is the future of a glacier containing about 160 trillion tons of ice, which if it were all to melt into the ocean would cause about 1.6 feet of global sea level rise.