Synthetic Biology (and beyond) Community response to COVID-19

Many organizations across biotech and synthetic biology are working hard to develop new diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics against COVID-19. Here is a running (non-comprehensive!) list of some of what we’ve seen so far, with a focus on these areas:

Research tools
Community resources and accelerators
Environmental testing
Manufacturing and scale-up

If you are working on something you’d like to share, could use support for, or if you know of other great projects missing from this list, please email

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There are many excellent resources for open public health, virology, and immunology data that are supporting efforts against COVID-19.


Viral biology


Viral tracking and evolution

  • 🧬 Ares Genetics — Next generation sequencing of virus to track evolution
  • 🧬 Nextstrain – Real time tracking of viral evolution


Public health tracking


Immune response characterization


Clinical trials data


Other data and news aggregators

Research tools

Molecules derived from the virus—nucleic acids like RNA or DNA, or proteins—are valuable tools for COVID-19 R&D, forming the basis of diagnostics as well as being essential for developing and testing new vaccines and treatments. These companies are offering antigens, antibodies, RNA, and DNA for COVID-19 research.

Research test kits — qPCR


Research test kits — Immunoassays


Nucleic acids


Antigens, antibodies, and enzymes




Community resources and accelerators



At this stage in the pandemic, widespread testing is essential to slowing the spread of the virus. Many organizations, from hospitals to academic labs, startups to multinationals have stepped up to develop, manufacture, and scale up testing kits. Check out the FDA’s page tracking diagnostic tests for more information and for an exhaustive list and this document for a detailed background on how these tests work.

Nucleic Acid Tests




CRISPR based diagnostics


Other diagnostic tests 

  • 🌡 MiProbes — Rapid test to identify viral proteins


Testing hubs


Automation and scaling protocols

  • 🤖 Hamilton
  • 🤖 OpenCell — Scaling up testing infrastructure
  • 🤖 OpenTrons — Scale up of testing automation
  • 🤖 Salis Lab — Protocols for massively parallel testing
  • 🤖 Zymergen — Supporting automation for testing at the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub


Environmental testing

Testing for the presence of virus on surfaces and in other environments like sewers can help track and monitor for the spread of COVID.



A large number of new and repurposed medicines are making their way through preclinical research and clinical trials to get to the patients that need it most. This list is biased for biologic drugs, such as antibodies, rather than small molecule therapeutics that could treat infection. Many of these therapies use antibodies, often derived from the blood plasma of patients that have recovered from coronavirus, to help the immune system of patients fight the virus directly.

Antibody therapies in development

  • 💊 AbCellera — Developing antibody therapy with Eli Lilly
  • 💊 CytoDyn — Phase 2 trial antibody therapeutic
  • 💊 Emergent BioSolutions — Plasma-derived antibody therapy
  • 💊 Kamada — Plasma derived IgG therapy
  • 💊 La Jolla Institute — Coronavirus Immunotherapy Consortium
  • 💊 Regeneron — Plasma derived antibody therapy
  • 💊 Takeda — Plasma derived IgG therapy
  • 💊 Vir — Developing antibody therapy with Bingen


Rapid antibody discovery


Other therapeutics 



In the long term, vaccines are essential for eradicating the thread of dangerous pathogens. Many groups are in the process of developing and testing several different kinds of vaccines. Vaccines train the immune system to recognize the virus so that it can be ready to clear the virus at the first sign of infection. Vaccines can be made from a number of different biological molecules: DNA, RNA, proteins, virus like particles, or live attenuated virus. Check out the WHO landscape of candidate vaccines for more.

Live attenuated virus vaccines


Virus-like particle (VLP) vaccines


Non-replicating viral vector vaccines


mRNA vaccines


DNA vaccines


Protein vaccines


Other vaccines



Manufacturing and scale up

Once a new antiviral therapeutic or vaccine is developed and tested, it needs to be scaled up for delivery.

Other products

  • 🧼 Amyris—hand sanitizer


Are we missing something? Please email

Our 2019 Creative Resident

The Ginkgo Creative Residency exists as a platform that genuinely integrates innovative, creative practice with the technical and industrial realm of biology. Following an open call that attracted applicants from 14 countries over five continents, encompassing creative disciplines as diverse as film, gastronomy, experience and textile design, we are thrilled to welcome Andrea Ling as Ginkgo’s 2019 Creative Resident! During her three month residency at Ginkgo, Andrea will develop a new project that explores the design of decay using biology as an agent for material transformation.

Andrea is an architect and artist working at the intersection of design, fabrication, and biology. A maker of process before form, and, in working with autonomous organisms as design partners, Andrea has a special interest in how designers might accommodate variation and agency within the design process and the resulting cultural implications of this accommodation that might arise. Her work, both solo and group, ranges from wearable sculpture to large-scale public art installations with a focus on immersive work that affects the bodily experience and exhibits responsivity.

Andrea obtained her MS from MIT and her M.Arch from the University of Waterloo with a background in human physiology from the University of Alberta. On becoming a member of the Mediated Matter group, her research into biologically mediated design processes began to shift to focus on living systems as a medium for design expression, and as a viable way of constructing responsive material relationships between body and environment.


Decomposing maquette, 2018. 3D-printed chitosan, cellulose, and pectin composites, water.



Templating fungal growth, 2018. Chitosan, cellulose, vermiculite, brown rice, pink oyster mushroom spores.

Andrea’s thesis project, Design by Decay, Decay by Design (2016 – 2018) focuses on integrating decay as an element of the functional and aesthetic capacity of an object. The resulting experimental artefacts constructed with mostly 3D printed structural polysaccharides whose degradation rate is influenced by material composition, geometry, and water content, introducing natural decay as a design parameter as much as characteristics such as colour, opacity, and strength. The project is a part of Mediated Matter group’s ongoing research on the ecological cycle of materials and biologically mediated design processes.

Also as a part of Mediated Matter group’s Silk Studies (2018), Andrea has explored a set of behavior characterization, showing how silkworms can create planar textiles when provided specific base parameters during their spin phase. Adjustable variables in these samples include surface area, location and height of physical obstacles, perimeter geometry, and span distances.

Vertical scaffold, 2018. Silk worm, 3D printed poles, silk fiber, cotton thread.
Patterned obstacles, 2018. Silk worms, paper, acrylic templates, silk fiber deposition.

Andrea’s innate understanding of design and fabrication at multiple scales is further exemplified through a portfolio of projects by designGUILD, an artist collective she co-founded in 2011. Working on large-scale kinetic and responsive public art projects, designGUILD maximizes spatial connection and interactivity between the spectators/participants and the sculptures, such that there is a dynamic exchange between the two. The collective has been commissioned for temporary installations for festivals such as Burning Man and Nuit Blanche as well as permanent work for municipal clients.

Renderings & construction drawings, 2014. Andrea Ling, Jonah Humphrey, Spencer Rand, Patrick Svilans. Commissioned proposal for Traffic Triangle at Bathurst St & Vaughan Rd, Toronto. CNC cut aluminum & high-density polyurethane bird forms with high-gloss finish, rotating painted stainless-steel spine, gear system enclosed in painted stainless-steel columns.
Through the Gorilla Glass (TTGG) Burning Man – Site installation 2012. Andrea Ling, Jonah Humphrey, Spencer Rand, Patrick Svilans, Johnathon Wong. Poplar plywood, laser cut steel discs, galvanized steel tubing, cotton rope, bungee, LED light units on acrylic plates. 120’L x 10’W x 4’H.
Burning Man –Site installation 2012.

Unlike previous open calls that invited participants to submit a proposal based on a subject of their choosing, this year, applicants of the Ginkgo Creative Residency were asked to respond specifically to the issue of waste streams. We’ve focused the theme of the residency on waste given the immediate urgency of this global problem, and to develop a holistic approach to thinking about technological innovation in this realm. We are excited to see how Andrea’s thinking and design process expands our understanding of how synthetic biology could interact with efforts to design, biofabricate and scale circular material flows!

During her residency, Andrea will receive mentorship from the creative team at Ginkgo Bioworks, Faber Futures’ founder Natsai Audrey Chieza and Biofabricate’s producer Amy Congdon. This year, we have also invited an expert jury to offer our resident with critical perspectives on the complex and multifaceted topic of waste. We welcome LinYee Yuan, Founder & Editor MOLD, and Emeka Okafor curator of TEDGlobal, Co-Founder the TED Fellows program and Maker Faire Africa, who will also be providing mentorship on the programme.

We’ll be sharing updates on Andrea’s time at Ginkgo here on the blog and on the Ginkgo Creative Residency Instagram page @ginkgocreativeresidency.



Reviving the Smell of Extinct Plants

Could we bring back the smell of an extinct flower? Five years ago, this question started us off on an unexpected adventure that’s led us through enormous collections of two hundred year old plant specimens and international art exhibitions, through collaborations with a paleogenomics lab, a smell researcher, and a multidisciplinary artist, and through lots of cutting edge synthetic biology. The culminating immersive installation where you can smell the lost flowers, titled Resurrecting the Sublime, in collaboration with artist Dr. Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, smell researcher and artist Sissel Tolaas, and with the support of IFF Inc, has been shown at a number of art museums in Europe and will be having its US debut this week as part of Nature—the Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial opening May 10 in New York.

This short film tells the story of Resurrecting the Sublime, from the herbarium to the lab to the art gallery:

A lot of people at Ginkgo and beyond have been involved in bringing this project to life, from the earliest explorations about whether it would be possible with Jason Kakoyiannis all the way through the first exhibition opening. In 2016 I visited the Harvard Herbarium with my former colleague Dawn Thompson on a mission to find extinct plants. Together, we combed the stacks for preserved specimens of plants from the IUCN extinction list. From the more than 5 million samples in the herbarium, we found about a dozen extinct specimens that we could take tiny bits of leaf from. We worked with the UC Santa Cruz Paleogenomics lab to uncover sequences of DNA involved in fragrance production, which our colleague Jue Wang stitched together electronically into two thousand different versions. A team led by organism engineer Christian Ridley used those sequences to build strains of yeast harboring the extinct DNA, and test engineer Scott Marr measured the lost scents each strain made.

We focused our attention on three plants:

  • The Hibiscadelphus wilderianus Rock, or Maui hau kuahiwi in Hawaiian, was indigenous to ancient lava fields on the southern slopes of Mount Haleakalā, on Maui, Hawaii. Its forest habitat was decimated by colonial cattle ranching, and the final tree was found dying in 1912.
  • The Orbexilum stipulatum, or Falls-of-the-Ohio Scurfpea, was last seen in 1881 on Rock Island in the Ohio River, near Louisville, Kentucky, before US Dam No. 41 finally flooded its habitat in the 1920s.
  • The ‘Leucadendron grandiflorum (Salisb.) R. Br.’, the Wynberg Conebush has a more complex story, which we are still uncovering. It was last seen in London in a collector’s garden in 1806; its habitat on Wynberg Hill, in the shadow of Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa, was already lost to colonial vineyards. This flower may prove to be completely lost: the project is bringing to light that specimens around the world may historically have been incorrectly identified.
    • The Harvard herbarium specimen of Hibiscadelphus wilderianus
      The Harvard herbarium specimen of Hibiscadelphus wilderianus. Photo credit: Grace Chuang

      Once we had the list of molecules that the extinct DNA sequences were making in our yeast, we worked with smell researcher Sissel Tolaas to compose those molecules into a complex smell. Sissel used her deep expertise in chemistry and smell to reconstruct the flowers’ smells in her lab, using identical or comparative smell molecules to what we measured in the foundry. Smelling Sissel’s sketches for the first time was magical and uncanny—we were smelling something impossible.

      In large scale immersive installations designed by Daisy Ginsberg, fragments of Sissel’s smells diffuse through the air. As you smell the extinct flower and experience the geology of the lost landscape, you become part of an inverted natural history display—the human is the specimen on view.

      Resurrecting the Sublime at the St. Etienne Design Biennial. Photo credit: Pierre Grasset.

      For me as a biologist, art has been a really important way for me to ask questions and explore the many facets of biotechnology and its place in society. For extinctions that were caused by the actions of humans, asks us to contemplate our actions, and potentially change them for the future. I’m so thrilled to have been able to collaborate with so many brilliant scientists and artists on this project. The experience has been truly sublime. For more info, check out


      La Fabrique du Vivant
      Centre Pompidou
      Paris, France
      February 18, 2019 – April 15, 2019

      Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival
      The XXII Triennale di Milano
      Milan, Italy
      March 1, 2019 – September 15, 2019

      Resurrecting the Sublime
      Biennale Internationale Design Saint-Étienne
      Saint-Étienne, France
      March 21, 2019 – April 22, 2019

      Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial
      Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
      New York, USA
      May 10, 2019 – January 20, 2020

      Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial
      Cube design museum
      Kerkrade, Netherlands
      May 10, 2019 – January 20, 2020

      AI: More Than Human
      Barbican Centre
      London, UK
      May 16, 2019 – August 26, 2019

      Installation at La Fabrique du Vivant, Centre Pompidou. February 2019. Photo: Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg.


      Christina Agapakis, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, Sissel Tolaas

      Patrick Boyle, Alex Carlin, Natsai Audrey Chieza, Grace Chuang, Jason Kakoyiannis, Jason Kelly, Scott Marr, Krishna Patel, Kit McDonnell, Yakov Peckersky, Christian Ridley, Dayal Saran, Atsede Siba, Dawn Thompson, Jue Wang

      IFF Inc.

      Dr Michaela Schmull, Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge

      Dr Joshua Kapp and Dr Beth Shapiro, Paleogenomics Lab, University of California, Santa Cruz

      Twist Bioscience

      Dr Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, Ana Maria Nicolaescu (3D artist), Johanna Just, Ness Lafoy, Ioana Mann, Stacie Woolsey, Nicholas Zembashi


      Sam Conran

      Factory Settings


      Dr Nicholas Hind, Dr Gerhard Prenner, Harry Smith, The Herbarium, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Dr Anthony Roberts, Changing Lives Through Nature, Cape Town; Dr Tony Rebelo, SANBI, Cape Town

Our 2018 Creative Resident

Yasaman SheriWe’re so excited to announce that Yasaman Sheri will be joining us as our second Creative Resident this fall! Yasaman is a designer exploring the potential for interactions beyond the visual interface, through augmented and virtual reality, sensory, and other biological systems.

Yasaman’s career has spanned many fascinating technologies and systems. She was one of the first designers on the original Microsoft Hololens Operating System team, where she led design interactions on Windows Holographic for five years and designed novel spatial and gestural interfaces for augmented and mixed reality.

Microsoft Hololens

Since her time at Microsoft, Yasaman’s research and design work has focused on leveraging her knowledge in machine sensing to expand human experience of sensing and perception. Working with companies like Mozilla, Toyota, and Google X, and teaching at the Copenhagen Institute for Interaction Design and Art Center College of Design, she’s built a unique understanding of sensory design beyond the visual, extending into smell, taste, and haptics.

Student work from Yasaman’s Sensory Design course at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design (header image above is from the same project)

Sensing the environment is fundamental to living things, whether bacteria sensing the gradients of chemical resources in their watery surroundings, snakes sensing the heat of their prey to “see” in the dark, or humans smelling a delicious meal simmering in the kitchen. Biosensors are also fundamental to the study of biochemistry and the practice of synthetic biology: our earliest understandings of gene expression come from studying the system that the bacterium E. coli uses to sense and respond to the presence of lactose sugars, which in turn is used every day in labs to control the function of synthetic gene circuits.

During her time at Ginkgo, Yasaman will explore the design of biosensors in synthetic biology and their potential for intersection with human interaction, bringing her expertise as a designer of sensory experiences and interactive interfaces to this world of biosensors. We’ll be sharing updates from her time at Ginkgo here on the blog and on the Ginkgo Creative Residency Instagram @ginkgocreativeresidency.

Extrapolation Foundry

At the Bioworks2 launch party last month, the Extrapolation Factory set up a pop-up futuristic bio-product assembly line inside the foundry. Guests selected two present-day signals hinting at possible biotech futures and then extrapolated from those signals to imagine a future product. The Extrapolation Factory team did the rest, transforming these ideas into futuristic objects.




Each object, with its bright colors and its 99 cent store packaging, brings together and brings to life complex ideas from the edges of what’s possible today. While very different from the kinds of organisms we’re prototyping in the foundries, the extrapolation exercise is a playful way of pushing the boundaries between imagination and reality.




The products are fun and sometimes silly, but they all tell a story about today’s technologies and their potential. Having this assembly line in our foundry, where we are building some of the present day “signals” was also really interesting. I don’t think we’ll be churning out Poopipes any time soon, but the exercise of imagining the future might help us come up with something equally unexpected.



Check out more photos from the installation on Flickr and learn more about Extrapolation Factory projects on their website.

A New Cultured Palette


“It’s sort of juicy…fruity?”

“I’m getting melon and…caramel…?”

“It’s just like peachy penguins!”

We’re in Ginkgo’s foundry, Bioworks1, attempting to describe the smell of lactones, a family of scents that have a varied character, adding a creamy richness to everything from jasmine flowers to peach gummy candy to luxury perfume. Their smell is difficult to pin down exactly because they are in so many different fragrances and flavors. Lactones are a crucial part of the scent of stone fruits such as plum and peach, blue cheese, butter, coconut scented sunscreen, and the Gucci perfume Rush. They may be milky, buttery, fruity, creamy, fleshy, peachy, and coconutty, often all at once.

These lactones are part of a new palette of cultured ingredients that Ginkgo is producing in collaboration with our partner Robertet, the French fragrance and flavor house based in Grasse and founded in 1850. We’ve already been working with Robertet on creating a “cultured rose”—a rosy mixture of floral, sweet, and spicy scents produced by engineered yeast. With the cultured rose and these lactones there will be a total of ten Ginkgo cultured ingredients on the palette available to Robertet’s perfumers and flavorists.

A Scent Tour of the Lactones

There are many types of lactones, each with a slightly different structure and a slightly different smell. The peachy penguin smell we sampled first was a ten carbon lactone—decalactone (from deca-, Greek for the number ten, and lactone, from the Latin for milk). Add just one carbon atom to the mix and the smell changes. This undecalactone has the same creamy sweetness as its ten-carbon cousin but it smells lighter, brighter, and fruitier. Add one more carbon to get dodecalactone and the smell changes again: sweet and unctuous, with a deeper caramel and coconut tonality.

Lactones are made biologically when cells break down fatty acids—long chains of carbon and hydrogen plus a few oxygen atoms. As the cell chews up the carbons for energy, the oxygen atoms will spontaneously react and bind part of the long carbon chain back on itself, turning the fatty acid into a closed ring that’s characteristic of lactones. Depending on the length of the fatty acid and the position of the oxygen the cell will make different lactones of the deca- undeca- or dodeca- variety.

Tom Knight smelling lactones

Many organisms make lactones as a byproduct of metabolizing fats and oils, from single-celled yeasts to tropical trees. While many of the lactones used in perfumes and flavors used to be extracted from tropical plants—like Massoia trees grown in Papua New Guinea—today the majority are made through chemical processes or yeast fermentation because extracting the lactones from the bark kills the tree.

Making lactones via fermentation is a bit like brewing beer, but instead of the yeast eating sugar and producing alcohol, they eat fatty acids and produce lactones. To make cultured lactones we start with a lactone-producing yeast and tailor their metabolism to focus their production on a single lactone. We do this by changing what the type of fatty acid the yeast eat, and by tuning fatty acid metabolism to make the conversion process more efficient. Designers and fermentation engineers work together to match the right brewing process with the right yeast for each target lactone.

Designing the fermentation process in a “nano-brewery”

Because the biological process of chewing fatty acids and creating a scent is similar for many different lactones, the lessons we learn from creating one ingredient are generalizable to others, allowing us to efficiently expand the available palette. As we learn more from the biology of flavor and fermentation we’ll be able to design many new scent experiences in collaboration with Robertet and perfumers.

Yeast producing cultured ingredients