A New Era of Industrial Engineering: Using Biology

Ginkgo Bioworks

Ginkgo Bioworks is working to make biology a predictable programming language.

Ginkgo Bioworks is engineering from nature. Its founders, who hail from MIT and include renowned computer scientist Tom Knight, are redesigning industrial engineering for a new generation, creating a revolution powered by biology.

Ginkgo Bioworks‘ Foundry, dubbed Bioworks1, is the first organism engineering facility of its kind. Resembling a semiconductor factory, it uses advanced software, robotics and traditional biology to design, build and test DNA. Their automated system works in concert with their scientists to custom-engineer organisms for many different applications – from making inventive scents and flavors to fighting antibiotic resistance. And just like semiconductors, Ginkgo will update the Foundry every couple years to keep up with demand and rapidly improving technology.

ginkgo-foundry1

Ginkgo is starting with the food and cosmetics industries. Its products take a page from people’s long history of culturing foods. Just like we use yeast to make wine and beer and bacteria cultures to make yogurt, Ginkgo is using the natural power of microorganisms to produce new flavors, nutrients and perfumes.

But their vision is much grander: designing organisms to tackle some of humanity’s best opportunities and daunting challenges. Ginkgo’s work includes making microorganisms that fight antibiotic resistance and remove greenhouse gases from our air with groups such as the DOE and DARPA.

It’s a tall order but by working to apply its technology across multiple levels of complexity, Ginkgo hopes to make a biological manufacturing method as reliable and predictable as an assembly line to make a car or a cell phone. This biology revolution promises to rewrite a near endless number of life’s operating systems.

I have been waiting for 13 years for the technology to jump up to a scale that is needed for genomics to have a significant impact in medicine. We have just crossed that threshold.

Jason Kelly - Co-Founder, Ginkgo Bioworks

Ginkgo’s scientists are writing a new code base for humanity, taking the programming of biology out of the realm of the unpredictable and into the predictable.

The structured and methodological approach at Ginkgo is accelerating the pace of scientific advancement. This is a big shift from the past, in which an army of highly skilled scientists had to engineer biological cells by hand, requiring 50 different processes. The team at Ginkgo has automated these processes with a bank of robotics.

Ginkgo is part of a growing cadre of companies such as Synthetic Genomics and Human Longevity that are changing the way we think about nearly every aspect of life by re-imagining our world’s biological toolkit. These applied biologists are making organism engineering into a truly predictable engineering discipline.

Using biology to pursue our best opportunities and solve our greatest challenges opens up an entirely untapped world of solution sets for humanity.