Established in 2014
Afingen, Inc. is a spin-off technology company founded from the DOE Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL: Berkeley Lab) in 2012, dedicated to the development and commercialization of emerging scientific insights that can have enormous impact on economics and environmental sustainability through new biological products or improved biological capabilities. The co-founders are three scientists and a commercialization expert from the JBEI, a Berkeley Lab-led research center established in 2007 to pursue breakthroughs in the production of cellulosic biofuels. In 2011, by manipulating a plant’s metabolic pathways, two scientists at the LBNL/JBEI, Henrik Scheller, who heads the Feedstocks Division, and Dominique Loqué, who leads the cell wall engineering group, have figured out a way to genetically rewire plants to allow for an exceptionally high level of control over the spatial pattern of gene expression, while at the same time boosting expression to very high levels. The centerpiece of Afingen’s technology has been the patented method APFL, or “artificial positive feedback loop”. The process differs from classical genetic engineering. “Some people distinguish between ‘transgenic’ and ‘cisgenic.’ We’re using only pieces of DNA that are already in that plant and just rearranging them in a new way,” said Scheller. “We’re not bringing in foreign DNA. The concept targets master transcription factors, which are molecules that regulate the expression of genes involved in certain biosynthetic processes, that is, whether certain genes are turned “on” or “off.” The APFL technology is a breakthrough in plant biotechnology - Loque received ASPB’s Robert Rabson Award, and Loqué and Scheller received the 2014 R&D 100 Award for the invention and the 2014 Berkeley Lab Director’s Awards for Exceptional Achievement.
In early 2014, the four co-founders and Ai Oikawa, Ph.D. launched Afingen to apply this technology in the development of low-cost biofuels that are cost-competitive with gasoline and corn grain ethanol. This spin-off was supported through  a DOE SBIR grant FY2014 fast track program award entitled, “Generation of switchgrass plants with optimized biomass composition for biofuel production,” in the amount of $1.72 million to engineer switchgrass plants that will contain more fermentable sugar and less lignin in selected structures. Afingen subsequently applied for and was awarded:  The DOE SBIR FY15 grant, “Engineering robust yeasts for biorefinery applications.” This Phase I award of $225,000 aimed at enhancing terpene production from engineered yeast using the APFL technology.  The USDA SBIR FY16 grant, “Fast-growing high-yield forage crops via a novel biotechnology platform”: This Phase I award of $100,000 aims to demonstrate the fast-growth technology in alfalfa and sorghum.  The NASA STTR FY17 grant, “Fast growing high-yield wheat and canola for efficient nutrient recycling systems”: The Phase I award of $125,000 is to develop fast-growing high-yield rotation crops - wheat and canola - towards better recycling system on the both Earth and Mars.