Amy Feldman posted an article that started with this line: “Customized organisms will revolutionize the way we manufacture everything from car seats to cellphones.”
She was referring to the work of a group of MIT-trained scientists at the synthetic biology startup, Ginko Bioworks (ref Forbes) and she goes on to say that the Ginko venture is “brewing the building blocks for our bioengineered future. ” Ginko currently has a variety of things in the works, including a dramatic new twist on the way that corn is fertilized, which has typically been by spraying the plants with a chemical mix. Instead, Ginko has produced an environmentally-friendly coating for corn seeds, so that they will fertilize themselves. The company is also developing a new approach to disease: creating living creatures to be ingested that would be genetically programmed to seek and destroy disease. And, they also promise to do something about the fact that fake meat tastes gross, by making it taste better. And, there’s much, much more – Ginko is the leader in organism engineering and is “category defining – pretty much creating the whole idea of the organism being a product.” If one did a tour of Ginko’s life factories, one would find a robot in one lab pipetting, moving fragments of DNA suspended in liquid into a tray with eight rows and 12 columns at a speed beyond human capability. After the cells grow in plastic containers, another robot photographs them and uses that image to accurately pluck the irregularly shaped colonies from the surrounding jelly. The lab is quiet; largely, the machines do the work. The automation allows Ginko to test thousands, up to tens of thousands of designs on each project, whereas, in a traditional lab, a bench scientist would be able to do 10. To realize how fast the business has grown, there were zero sequenced genomes in 1995, ten in 1997, and Ginko has just acquired a database of 135,000 sequenced genomes. Jason Kelly, Ginko’s founder and CEO, believes that scientific biology is developing “at a similar pace to computing in the mainframe era. As the field develops and creates products currently unimaginable, biology will help people live better lives, while moving away from chemical-based processes that lead to environmental degradation.” He ends by stating that, “It should be a point of pride; you should want things made with GMOs because they’re made with biology,” (ref Forbes). Well – that’s one way of thinking about it.