If you were to look inside the cells of all living things, you would find a common code in the form of DNA. When speaking of code, we tend to immediately think of the digital code associated with computers, but DNA, the blueprint of life, is a biological code that is not all that different. Where computer code uses 0’s and 1’s to program software to perform a task, our biological code uses A’s, C’s, G’s, and T’s to program cells to perform specific functions necessary for life. .
Today, a biotechnology company by the name of Ginkgo Bioworks applies the same computer programming principles to synthetic biology as companies like Microsoft.
Simply put, synthetic biology is the field of biology that manipulates and reprograms the DNA, or biological code, of living organisms to generate an alternative natural product.
As Dr Jason Kelly, co-founder and CEO of Ginkgo Bioworks, explains this week on A Second Opinion podcast, we can find synthetic biology discreetly hidden all around us, from the food industry to the world of fashion. For example, Burger King’s Impossible Burger without meat that “bleeds” like meat was “activated by a pretty magical component of synthetic biology which is animal protein without the animal,” Kelly explains. Using the power of this new field of science, the animal hemoglobin protein code has been encoded into the yeast, creating a veggie burger that has the smell, taste and consistency of a traditional beef burger.
More recently, Ginkgo customer Genomatica partnered with Lululemon to create a biosynthesized plant-based nylon fabric that removes microplastics that appear in other nylon and microfiber fabrics, creating yoga pants. more respectful of the environment.
Ginkgo pushes the field of biology towards the engineering industry and calls itself “The Organism Company” with the mission of programming cells as we programmed computers. Making comparisons with Apple, Kelly explained Ginkgo’s vision to me, where Ginkgo aims to serve as a horizontal platform for synthetic biology products (much like the App Store on Apple devices). Ginkgo does not bring products to market, but rather works with companies to develop the desired synthesized DNA code, and then charges a royalty when the physical good produced from that code is made available. This innovative approach allows businesses, including startups who struggle to afford the multi-million dollar cost of setting up a lab, the freedom to outsource the time and expense of arduous lab work and grants. to Ginkgo and the flexibility to operate in a variety of biotech markets.
The current pandemic has played a crucial role in demonstrating the importance of synthetic biology and DNA manipulation. Synthetic biology offers more efficient ways to produce mRNA vaccines, with recent Ginkgo partnership create a modified cell that creates a key enzyme used in making mRNA vaccines that is 10 times more efficient and has the potential to reduce costs and speed up production.
The Covid has also enabled Ginkgo to think about the future of biosecurity, in particular through the prism of detection and prevention. About this, Kelly said to me, “We are entering an era of the ability to design and program biology and, I would say, we just have proof that our biosecurity capabilities in the United States are not very. good. The CEO would like to see a “muscle” around biosafety for reasons of national security as well as for reasons of public health. He adds: “It is the topic of the moment and the United States should not waste the next 18 months where the pandemic is still a problem in the United States, and especially in the world, to build this.”
Ginkgo is using the next 18 months to put in place biosecurity measures through the concept of surveillance testing. “You know what viruses are potentially roaming your computer right now, but you have no idea what’s in the air. Kelly believes we need more widespread, routine Covid-19 testing, which he hopes will give policymakers access to more information. He adds: “When a governor has to make a decision on how to contain the virus, he does not have to shut down an entire state. They can shut down a town, city, school, or classroom because they know exactly where the virus is. They don’t have to do rude interventions that ruin everyone’s life, they are able to do targeted interventions.
It was easy to see the direct impact that a biotech company like Ginkgo had during the pandemic, from biological monitoring methods they are currently working on to producing an enzyme that allows for more efficient creation of mRNA vaccines. . The broader reach of a business like this cannot be ignored. Kelly estimates that her platform roughly doubles its efficiency each year, tripling production and halving the cost per project each year. Ginkgo is adding nearly 30 new products to its roster this year with the goal of producing up to 500 new products by 2025. It is valued at $ 15 billion and has been on CNBC’s Disruptor 50 list for three years. companies.
Where the computer age has disrupted information-based industries, the Ginkgo Synthetic Biology Platform is completely changing the physical goods industry. When I asked about future markets, Kelly replied, “Designed cells… they don’t move information; they move atoms. So the industries they disrupt won’t be the information-based industries, they’ll be the good physical industries – and all of them. From building materials and food to pharmaceuticals and electronics, these are all biotech industries, they just don’t know it yet. Synthetic biology has the potential to usher in the next industrial revolution, change the future of food to make it more sustainable and plant-based, design biofuels to reduce dependence on oil and gas, and transforming medical treatments to effectively target various diseases, and Ginkgo Bioworks is at the forefront.
Dr Jason Kelly joined me on A Second Opinion podcast for September 6, 2021. For more on Dr. Kelly’s ideas on how to increase awareness, reduce stigma and improve access to mental health care, listen Episode 143 a second opinion.