A small startup biotech firm says it has a software platform that can come up with 100 times more chemicals from microbes than were previously thought.

Called 20n, the company was launched by a UC Berkeley professor and a post doc who have worked together for years. They've developed software that can use algorithms to design genetically engineered microbes to make specific chemicals.  

The idea is that a company tells 20n which molecules they want, and their data-mining technology will design a microbe that can make it — and they have to be organic compounds.

According to their website, “The best illustration of this DARPA-backed technology is the bacteria we engineered to produce Paracetamol (also known as acetaminophen, and sold under the brand name Tylenol). Aside from this bacteria, there is no known natural way of producing acetaminophen. We are building data mining technology that will allow us to enable the bioproduction of a whole spectrum of valuable molecules.”

According to one report, licenses for microbes can start in the hundreds of thousands and 20n already has several contracts being negotiated. Their work will tap into the specialty chemicals market — valued at $980 billion.

20n says they chose their name because, “20 is the number of standard amino acids specified by the universal genetic code. Proteins are composed of amino acids sequences with median length in the n = 300 to 500 range. 20n is the set we get to play with.”

The colorful map (on the right) illustrates what they say is “every chemical that can be made biologically, as discovered by 20n's algorithms.”