Black STEM scholars report high rates of isolation as one reason for high rates of attrition. The Cultivate Fellowship is Ginkgo’s way of trying to alleviate the barriers experienced by these talented students and reduce the marginalization of Black individuals in STEM.
The 2023 cohort of Cultivate Fellows consisted of 11 Black undergraduate students from 11 different institutions, including historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and a community college. Members of the Katherine Johnson Affinity Group selected the Fellows. Two focal points of the week were professional development and networking. Fellows engaged in career exploration opportunities, discussions, and panels designed to expand their knowledge of the range of opportunities across STEM fields that are open to them.
The 2023 cohort also had the opportunity to meet Ginkgo’s inaugural Cultivate Fellowship cohort from 2022. We hope to plant the roots for a self-sustaining community of Black STEM scholars. We know that they have the potential to change the trajectory of Black individuals across all STEM fields.
Featured in the Boston Globe
Ginkgo’s Communications Team and Early Talent Team worked to feature the program in The Boston Globe. Make sure to read the article here. It includes some of the firsthand experiences of our Fellows throughout the week.
The Cultivate Fellowship’s on-site week in Boston was just the beginning. We hope to build a long and meaningful relationship between Ginkgo and both of our Cultivate Fellow cohorts. Each Fellow will be paired with a mentor who will continue to provide guidance and support around their professional and academic journey. They will also each receive an annual $3,000 scholarship until graduation.
Lastly, the Early Talent Team would like to thank those involved in the creation and execution of this program. Its accomplishments are thanks to the hard work of many Bioworkers across the company. Sending a particular shoutout to Noah Howe, our People Team intern this summer, who thoroughly and continuously supported the Cultivate Fellowship.
What are the spaces that anchor us in understanding and dreaming with science? I was introduced to science on my grandma’s lanai in Kahului, Maui. It was on that shaded porch where my father taught me and my sister to make pinwheels of hibiscus flowers and boats of bamboo leaves. Listening to family stories of life in a Maui sugarcane labor camp, I learned that we know a place through the plants, its names, its legends, gifts of health, rituals of gratitude, and play. That deep multifaceted engagement with biology has inspired me to explore science in multigenerational spaces through playful making. Working with Xinampa Community Biolab, co-founding BioJam, and leading Biodesign Challenge teams from my garage, I have spent years creating playful spaces that invite more people to dream of equitable and sustainable biofutures through art and science.
I would argue that there is a gaping hole for such spaces. As synthetic biology continues to expand in its use and impact, it will be essential to develop new conversation spaces that span academia, industry, and local communities, spaces where questions can be asked, knowledge is multi-directionally shared, valued, and collaboratively grown. In an era in which the systems of our microbial world are taking center stage in issues of health, industry, climate change, and agriculture, hyper-local community driven science spaces have the potential to expand our collective notion of what science is, build trust, and invite more people into asking the questions and dreams of our shared biofutures.
When I saw the call for the Ginkgo Creative Residency for PLAY, I knew this was the specific moment I would apply. As the daughter of a toy designer, I believe in the serious power of play. When we play, there is no fear of being wrong and we can suspend judgment- both of which are crucial when engaging in complex and layered science conversations. Through play, we can storytell our past, present, and future. We can reframe what is science innovation within the context of us being future ancestors.
For PLAY, I submitted the Floating Kīpuka Grow Kit, a LEGO-based platform for dreaming sustainable and equitable biofutures. I envisioned it as a conversation starter tool that could help frame science as coming from many directions, while bringing culture and ethics directly into the mix of early bioengineering journeys. The table design grounds the kit into an imagined landscape, turning the structure into a centerpiece that can be customized to location and culture though LEGO bricks, clay, natural local materials, and blank story cards. This suspended assembly space enables the snapping of components above and below the build plane, encouraging people to think of systems that cycle in blended spaces above and below land, in soil, sea, sky, and self.
A kīpuka is Hawaiian word for an isolated vegetative patch surrounded by a lava flow, and it also poetically used to mean a place where life or culture endures, regardless of any surrounding turbulence and injustices. Similarly, the modular assembly is meant to create a suspended safe space to hold ideas and dream future cartographies of biological abundance.
In my Ginkgo Creative Residency spanning three months, (two in Boston and one in Hawai’i), I prototyped this hands-on storytelling tool with several community groups and their ideas flowed into each others spaces via the story cards they created. Prototype workshops were conducted with Xinampa Community Biolab and Migrant Ed Region XVI in Salinas, California, in my Manoa Valley garage on Oahu, Hawai’i, and at Ginkgo Bioworks in Boston, where I was privileged to be in conversation with many.
When I arrived at Ginkgo for my first two months of the residency, I reached out on slack to identify a workspace best suited to fabricating the kit parts and was lucky to land in the automation repair shop area. It was fascinating to see almost all the machines found throughout the labs concentrated in that shop where I could get a closer look at the components. I was very grateful to Mike Szegedi for welcoming me so generously into the space and for offering me a spot to work in. It was there that I fabricated a large and small kipuka LEGO table for above and below construction. In that space, I also designed custom LEGOs to represent example stories of the categories to expand.
Within a week, I started to collect stories. I met in person and on zoom with a wide range of Ginkgo employees to learn where they saw play in their work, in their life paths, and I asked them what objects in their work could tell stories that invited curiosity and conversation. I designed and 3D printed custom LEGOs that told stories distilled from these conversations, as well as from stories that percolated from community conversations in Salinas and Hawai’i. In periodic zoom meetings, I had discussions with Xinampa and Migrant Ed XVI in Salinas so that we could coordinate for the workshop they would lead in late November. In total, I made three small kipuka tables and one large standing table. The kit parts were sent to Salinas, Hawaii and Boston. I conducted early tests of the kit at a few Ginkgo happy hours. It was exciting to see people coming to both happy hours to continue iterating on their designs.
As I flew back to Oahu in late November, Mauna Loa and Kilowea were erupting. I could see the billowing dark clouds swirling upward and wondered what new kipukas might be forming. It was an exciting time as people discussed Pele’s awakening and her anger at the treatment of the ʻāina, (land and sea).
The Hawai’i workshop that I conducted in my lanai garage in December engaged a wide range of participants spanning from a one year old to eighty five years olds. Some happy hour Ginkgo LEGO creations were placed on the table suspended in the middle of my garage, and all the Salinas participants’ story cards were posted on the walls to spark conversation. At the end of the workshop, a neighborhood elementary school student asked when we’d be doing the workshop again. The culminating workshop was back at Ginkgo Bioworks with employees and their families. All the participants’ story cards from Salinas and Hawai’i were displayed for inspiration and reflection.
From the range of workshops, I learned a few key things. One, different communities come with different experiences with the concepts of social justice and sustainability. In Salinas, a longer discussion was needed first to discuss what is “just” and what is “sustainability” as these concepts are not embedded in the formal education or the daily lives of the migrant education students. In Hawai’i, issues of social justice and sustainability underpin so much on the islands that there wasn’t the same need to discuss the meaning of the terms. A second learning was that when people are invited to construct with a blend of LEGOs, clay, and local plant materials, the experience is so outside the box, that many felt free to build without firmly knowing what they were creating. It was a percolating meditative space and many began massaging the materials and ideas simultaneously. In this space of open ended making, people showed curiosity for other’s designs and ideas, and there was not a sense of there being hierarchical experts. Another key learning was that multiple workshops would be ideal, as people wanted to iterate on ideas and designs, and many shared that they wished there was a follow up workshop.
In the coming months, components of the kit will be also provided in Spanish, Trique and in Hawaiian on the project website: https://www.floatingkipuka.com/) which includes downloadable resources for others to use to initiate conversations about biofutures. I believe that this project highlights an overlooked interim step needed in making visions of synthetic biology at scale a reality: accessible community spaces building trust for it. I hope that others take the kit and ideas center in it and remix it as they explore conversation spaces across silos.
Throughout the process of this residency, I have reached out to several community biolabs for feedback. I will be adding revisions responding to feedback from Xinampa, BioBus, and Genspace, and I hope it elevates interest in the creation of other accessible functioning biotechnology conversation tools for greater tinkering and co-designing within communities most impacted by biotechnology and agtech. I hope that others will find the website resources useful as they reimagine this suspended table as a natural structure relevant to their community landscape and dream of the biofutures they wish to grow.
The Floating Kipuka Grow Kit is now part of the Local Context Hub and Local Knowledge Notices program, and I hope that through this collaboration, the project and other similar story-cradling projects will enlarge Indigenous voices and knowledge in innovation and biofutures dreaming. It also underpins a current show I have at Santa Clara University, where I am now inviting people to share their stories in a gallery space to add their stories to the ones shared during the residency.
As we share and construct knowledge on a common platform, might we share stories of kalo as plant ancestors, radishes carved as guests of honor in Japanese and Oaxacan celebrations, and cautionary agricultural labor stories alongside stories of horizontal gene transfer, micro colony encapsulation, and cellular circuits that fluoresce? When we do, what new perspectives and frameworks emerge? Where do we keep them in active percolation and how do we invite more into the conversation dreaming our collective biofutures? Play just may be the secret sauce.
Beginning January 24th, Ginkgo welcomed dozens of students from Mexico and Peru, all winners of iGEM Design League’s 2021 Jamboree, to Boston for a week of events. These teams designed synthetic biology solutions to local problems and were selected by iGEM Design League, which seeks to enable Latin American students to design with biology and propose solutions to global and local problems through a synthetic biology framework. In 2021, Ginkgo sponsored the championship prize for the inaugural winning teams and provided each with direct mentorship, DNA synthesis to test their projects, and a trip to Boston where they would gain exposure to synthetic biology in action. The winning teams, two from Mexico and one from Peru, tackled issues including food waste, pesticide and healthcare.
Upon arrival, the three winning teams from 2021 were given tours of Ginkgo by members of LaB+ (our Employee Resource Group for LatinX and Hispanic Bioworkers) and others to see our Foundries and meet with Bioworkers. Students then presented their projects internally for us to learn more about the students as well as give them an opportunity to hone their presentation skills.
In Partnership with iGEM Design League and Latinos in Bio
After touring Ginkgo, students and Bioworkers moved to District Hall for a panel jointly hosted by Latinos in Bio and iGEM Design League titled Accessing Careers in the Life Sciences. Reshma Shetty, our co-founder and COO, opened the event with comments about Ginkgo’s approach to DEI and her own experience founding a company. She then opened the floor to open questions before turning the stage over to the panel. Moderated by Andrew Rodriguez, former Head of Business Development, MilliporeSigma, the panel featured: Rogerio Vivaldi, CEO, Sigilon Therapeutics; Carolina Alarco, Founder and Principal, Bio Strategy Advisors; Gisselle Perez, Head of HR of the Intercontinental Region, Biogen; Geronimo Martinez, Director Internal Audit, Biogen; and Rocio Aguilar Suarez, Research Scientist, from Ginkgo Bioworks Basel team. Students from MIT, Harvard, BU and Northeastern University also attended along with members of the local Latinos in Bio community for a night of networking.
Syn Bio Capital Tour
Billed as a tour of the Syn Bio Capital, students were taken to visit Synlogic and Salvia’s corporate headquarters, and met with Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT, Katie Galloway, who led a tour of Media Labs and facilitated demonstrations with her team including Adam Beitz, Pablo Cardenas, Ceili Peng, Stefan Golas, Rick Wierenga, and Kenney Cox. The event closed off with a tour of Harpoon Brewery, our local employee-owned brewery, including a private conversation with their Assistant Vice President of Quality Control, Jaime Schier, who gave students background on how yeasts used to create signature flavors were discovered and incorporated.
Our intention with supporting this trip and iGEM Design League is to continue to support indigenous talent and build out the network of scientists that will be the future of synthetic biology. Moreover, we were able to connect members of LaB+ as well as the local community to strengthen the presence of Latinos not just at Ginkgo, but across the syn bio community in Boston and abroad. As iGEM Design League expands to include Leagues for Indonesia, North Africa/Middle East and others, we will continue to look for ways to engage and support access to synthetic biology across the globe.
Grow is a magazine that tells the unfolding story of synthetic biology, published by Ginkgo Bioworks and edited by Massive Science. Today we’re proud to announce our fourth print edition: The Futures Issue. Order it now for $15.
At Ginkgo, we’re building our platform to enable you to access the power of synthetic biology. We are entering the DNA Age, and many of you reading this will help invent the future from this technology.
What will that future look like? Who decides what the future holds? How do we work together to shape a collective vision of a better future?
When we started brainstorming this issue back in January, we weren’t sure whether it was going to be The Future or The Futures Issue. That may sound like a fine distinction, but, in this case, one letter can make a whole world of difference.
The Future implies a singular, inevitable possibility, a mythical place of speculation, prediction, and cliche. Exploring Futures instead conveys that nothing is decided yet. That there are as many different future visions as there are people in the world. That, if we have the agency, we can change how things turn out.
Instead of forecasting what technologies will shape our existence several decades from now, this issue considers how we shape these futures and whether and how those transformations are used for the benefit of the few or the good of the many. Instead of predicting future disasters, we dig deep into new ways we can organize to prevent those outcomes.
Above all else, this issue allowed us to break with the cliches of Futurism: utopia and dystopia, the crossroads and the moonshot, the visionary and the tech revolution and instead ask how futures are constructed, offering alternatives to nostalgia and all-consuming pessimism.
Our writers and artists share different approaches and visions for these futures:
Danya Glabau considers the implications of external wombs, a speculative technology with such utopian and dystopian implications that it disrupts the false binary entirely.
In an epic food review, Nadia Berenstein captures the struggles of lab-grown seafood-makers to get their simulacrum to taste like the real thing.
Michelle Lhooq investigates the strange new world of GMO marijuana and ponders what could be gained and lost from making the world’s favorite drug “pharmaceutically predictable.”
Brad Bolman grounds our aspirations for chimeric humans in the reality of scientific limitations.
Claire L. Evans talks to James Bridle about how artificial intelligence could transform our understanding of sentience.
Max G. Levy delves deep into waste water analysis and considers how we will have to rethink our approach to public health if we have any hope of staving off the next pandemic.
Keolu Fox and Cliff Kapono imagine a waste-free Hawai’i, built on Indigenous futurism, industrial symbiosis, and a synbio-based circular economy.
Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu transports us to a world of immortal celebrities enabled by anti-aging technology.
Davian Ho surveys the overlapping interests between synthetic biology and the solarpunk movement, and breaks down how they could combine to actually help us reduce our carbon footprint.
Zooming out, Alexa Garcia presents a collated vision of the future of synthetic biology, co-created by students, artists, and industry veterans.
We hope this edition of Grow inspires you to share your own Futures with us. In the meantime, as always, thanks for reading.
Spearheaded and curated by Ginkgo Bioworks and design agency Faber Futures, the Ginkgo Creative Residency provides an experimental platform for creative thinkers to explore the intersection of design and biology. This year, we asked designers to think critically about PLAY: How can we create playful encounters in and out of the lab to reveal alternative possibilities for synthetic biology that nurture community, resilience, and hope?
To play is to be in the world. It is to be open to surprise, contingency, and improvisation—a critical skill for our combined future. During this year’s residency, play will carve the time and space to help us imagine an alternative way of being in the world. We hope it will allow us to learn not only what is useful, but what is possible.
Corinne Okada Takara will join us as our Creative Resident this fall to explore PLAY. Corinne is a community artist activist and STEAM educator who creates playful art/science workshops celebrating culture and creativity to elevate community voices in conversations centered on sustainability and biotechnology. She conducts workshops on sustainability design and biomaterial design that celebrate existing cultural and community science knowledge.
As the daughter of a toy designer, her approach is informed by play’s power as a facilitator of brainstorming, communion, experimentation, iteration, and dreaming of sustainable futures. She was introduced to biology by her father through hands-on toy making with natural materials, and storytelling with endemic, invasive, and canoe plants on Maui. She learned about biological systems sitting on her grandma’s lanai as she was taught to make pinwheels of hibiscus flowers and boats of bamboo leaves. Listening to family stories of life in a Maui sugarcane labor camp, Corinne learned that we know a place through the plants, its names, its legends, gifts of health, rituals of gratitude, and play. That deep multifaceted engagement with biology has inspired her to connect to place and community through food, playful making, cultural knowledge, and agricultural labor issues.
Corinne’s career has spanned game design, public art, and many community spaces collaborations with museums, universities, community biolabs, community gardens and on-the-street pop-up events. The explorations she develops are informed by her past work as Program Director of Xinampa community biolab in Salinas, California, as co-founder of BioJam (a teen biodesign program), and as co-founder of the San José AYA Art & Design Thinking Camp. In addition, she has led four youth teams in the Biodesign Challenge, is a 2020 Global Community Biosummit Fellow, a 2020 National Public Interest Technology Innovation Fellow, and has led biomaterial sustainability workshops in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Hawaii.
During her time at Ginkgo, Corinne will explore the development of a speculative design play kit, the Floating Kīpuka Grow Kit, which blends knowledge across time & cultures to create playful spaces for more voices in the discussions of equitable and just biofutures. The kit aims to be a model for multidirectional learning and sharing and will invite people to imagine new types of playful spaces of trust for collaboratively dreaming with biology with a focus on agricultural futures. The custom assemblies and custom-designed LEGO pieces will blend lab tools, organisms at scales, cultural legends, rituals of gratitude, and agricultural labor stories to bring culture and ethics directly into early bioengineering and sustainability design journeys. This is to empower more people to see themselves as co-shapers of biofutures. The resulting kit will be open source and shared via a website with downloadable activity cards and downloadable custom brick pieces.
“Kīpuka” is a Hawaiian word for an isolated patch of vegetation surrounded by lava flows.
Kīpuka is also poetically used to mean a place where life or culture endures, regardless of any surrounding turbulence and injustices. In addition to her explorations on-site at Ginkgo, Corinne will collaborate with organizations in Salinas, California and Hawaii. These community spaces have been percolating deep interconnected agricultural innovation questions rooted in culture, social justice, and sustainability but have been historically excluded from biotechnology and sustainability innovation conversations. These collaborations will take the form of kit prototyping workshops that will inform the development of play pieces and informational and prompt cards for the final kit.
Corinne is our sixth Creative Resident, following Ayana Zaire Cotton, Natsai Audrey Chieza, Yasaman Sheri, Andrea Ling, and the duo Monika Seyfried and Cyrus Clarke.
Corinne will receive mentorship from the creative residency team at Ginkgo Bioworks and Faber Futures. We also welcome our external jury to offer our residents critical perspectives and additional mentorship: Shira Chess, Latasha Wright, Knowledge Chikundi, and Karen Feder.
We’ll share updates from her time at Ginkgo here on the blog and on the Ginkgo Creative Residency Instagram @ginkgocreativeresidency and under #ginkgoplay.
Dr. Mahdavi brings more than 20 years of experience in developing and leading innovative strategies in the sector
Ginkgo is excited to welcome Behzad Mahdavi, Ph.D., MBA, as senior vice president of biopharma manufacturing and life sciences tools. In this new role, Dr. Mahdavi will lead our commercial efforts in the growing areas of bio-reagents, cell and gene therapies and new biopharmaceutical modalities. Dr. Mahdavi brings more than 20 years of experience in developing and leading innovative patient-centric growth strategies in challenging environments in the biopharmaceutical, cell and gene therapy, personalized medicine and life sciences sectors.
Dr. Mahdavi brings outstanding experience in global business growth, expansion and commercial innovation, which will be instrumental as we aim to redefine the landscape of treating diseases. We’ve proven how much our platform can help newcomers and incumbents in the growing biopharma space. As we continue to evolve our horizontal platform applications, having Dr. Mahdavi on our team will strengthen our ability to deliver innovative services to our customers and we can’t wait to onboard more programs in the coming months and years.
Dr. Mahdavi is joining a team that has significant experience in designing custom organisms and discovery of novel enzymes that bring new biopharma products to life. Ginkgo’s robust codebase and ability to search and screen candidates in silico and in vitro in high throughput allows it to support programs across all aspects of biopharma manufacturing and discovery. Our projects in this space span our expertise with both microbial and mammalian cells, and include publicly announced collaborations withAntheia, Aldevron, Biogen, Microba, Moderna, Novo Nordisk, Optimvia, Persephone, SaponiQx, Selecta Biosciences, Synlogic, Tantu, Totient, and Roche, as well as additional programs at various stages in the pipeline. With our strong enzyme discovery, optimization and metabolic engineering capabilities, we hope to enable the creation and improvement of product development across all therapeutic modalities.
“Ginkgo is integrating capabilities at massive scale in genetic engineering, manufacturing process optimization and bioinformatics along with innovative technologies from third-party developers,” said Dr. Mahdavi. “There are a tremendous number of opportunities in this space, and I joined Ginkgo because I believe this company is the partner of choice that the industry needs to realize those boundless opportunities. I am thrilled to work alongside Ginkgo’s world-class team to help create a platform of choice for our partners who strive to benefit patients around the world.”
Dr. Mahdavi most recently served as vice president of global open innovation at Catalent Pharma Solutions, where he created a distinctive portfolio of innovative services and expanded its customer base in new market segments. Prior to his work at Catalent, he held numerous leadership positions during his 13 years at Lonza and served as CEO of SAM Electron Technologies. Throughout his career, Dr. Mahdavi has built expertise in defining and developing optimal growth strategies and actionable business plans across biologics, cell therapy, and viral pharmaceutical modalities. In addition to his company leadership roles, he has also served in multiple Board of Directors and Advisory Board roles. Dr. Mahdavi holds a Doctorate in Chemistry from the University of Sherbrooke, Canada, and also has a Master in Business Administration from the University of Quebec in Montreal.
Ginkgo is thrilled to be an Apprenticeship Employer for the MassBioEd Life Sciences Apprenticeship Program, which provides an invaluable pathway into the life sciences for individuals who otherwise lack a pathway to entry. This accelerated 16-month program provides a path for individuals from historically marginalized communities by providing four months of free, stipended classroom and laboratory education by MassBioEd and Northeastern University followed by one year of paid on-the-job training. Ginkgo has hired six apprentices in the 2022 cohort, who will start their work in the Fall. If you’re interested in being part of future classes, apply here.
“Since starting my career I have been passionate about leveraging business to advance social good and sustainability. These interests led me to pursue an MBA at the University of Michigan Ross, where I have been reflecting on how to create lasting positive impact, practicing the skills of being an empathetic leader, and exploring design thinking methodologies. I was so excited to join Ginkgo for the summer as an intern on the Commercial Growth team because it represented the opportunity to combine my interests and skills, with a little added whimsy! This summer I have been primarily working with the Agriculture BD team as they look for opportunities to design repeatable product sets.”
“I am an Innovation Associate on the Ginkgo Concentric team. I work with the Delivery Team to help provide and facilitate COVID-19 testing to K-12 schools to build a biosecurity infrastructure. I chose Ginkgo because of the people and the company’s ambitious goals. Everyone seems to love what they do and no one is afraid to dream big!”
“I am a rising senior at Clark University. I was the People Team intern for summer 2022 and had a rotational position that exposed me to various roles and aspects within the People Team.
I chose Ginkgo because of their whimsy culture and their simple mission to make biology easier to engineer. From hilarious slack emojis to dinosaur memes, I made a lot of funny memories during my time. I loved the fact that I could approach anyone and get to know them at Ginkgo. The employees are whimsy and the work environment is welcoming and supportive.”