New Biosecurity Capabilities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Empowering the DRC to form the foundation for a biosecurity and bioeconomy platform

Today, we are pleased to announce that we’ve entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) with the intent of developing and implementing new biosecurity capabilities in Democratic Republic of the Congo. We’ve entered this MOU alongside the Institut National de la Recherche Biomédicale (“INRB”).

The goal of our planned partnership is to support DRC’s public health institutions as they work to address biosecurity challenges in the region. We, through our biosecurity and public health unit, Concentric by Ginkgo, plan to collaborate with the INRB to equip these institutions with biosecurity tools and training. We also plan to provide the secure data infrastructure they need to leverage automation, data analysis, bioinformatics capabilities, and other critical genomic sequencing technologies. Our collaboration aims to empower the DRC to form the foundation for a biosecurity and bioeconomy platform that serves the people of the DRC and the surrounding region.

Enabling and advancing biosecurity initiatives for all

We recognize the importance of international collaboration and cooperation to promote global health security as biological threats emerge. Low-resource areas often lack the infrastructure to monitor and respond effectively to biological threats, putting the people of these regions at a heightened outbreak risk. Investing in pathogen monitoring infrastructure in areas such as the DRC is essential for building systems that are capable of detecting and responding to emerging infectious diseases.

We’re thankful for the opportunity to collaborate with the INRB. Our aim is to continue to build upon a global weather map of critical infrastructure for tracking the spread and evolution of infectious disease, creating a safer and more secure world.

Effective pathogen monitoring and data sharing capabilities can empower government officials, community leaders, and other stakeholders to make informed public health decisions. In the long-term, these capabilities can also be leveraged to form the foundation for a sustainable regional bioeconomy.

“Continued collaboration is imperative to protect public health against emerging pathogens, in the DRC and around the world. We look forward to our partnership with Concentric, which will allow us to bring cutting-edge technology and a holistic approach to advance the DRC’s biosafety capacities,” declared Professor Jean-Jacques Muyembe, Director General of the INRB.

Find the full press release here along with all of the latest news from the Ginkgo team.

What will you grow with Ginkgo?

Tracking Pathogen Variants with Rwanda Biomedical Centre

Monitoring for COVID-19 variants at Kigali International Airport

We’re excited to announce that we’re partnering with the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) on a one-year pathogen monitoring program at Rwanda’s Kigali International Airport (KGL) to identify new and emerging viral variants.

Adding a new node to our pathogen monitoring network

Concentric by Ginkgo and RBC will collaborate to detect the virus on arriving international flights. We’ll sample aircraft wastewater and collect nasal swabs from travelers on a voluntary, anonymous basis. Our aim is to provide critical early warning public health insights to help inform strategies in Rwanda and beyond.

Ginkgo and RBC will work together to establish KGL as a new node in a global network of pathogen monitoring infrastructure, complementing the insights generated from Concentric’s existing travel biosecurity programs at several major international airports in the U.S. The program builds on Ginkgo’s previously announced MOU to develop and implement biosecurity capabilities in Rwanda.

A public health radar to inform targeted response strategies

Mitigating the risk of biological threats, including emerging viral variants, remains a global imperative that necessitates a robust early warning system. This pathogen monitoring program at Kigali International Airport will act like a public health radar, providing leaders with near-real-time data to inform targeted response strategies. We are excited to be partnering with the Rwanda Biomedical Centre—to stay ahead of the next variant or pathogen of concern, we must take an international approach to biosecurity.

RBC is Rwanda’s national health implementation agency, established in 2011 to improve the health of the Rwandan population by providing high quality, affordable and sustainable health care services. Ginkgo will support the end-to-end collection and analysis workflow with materials, training and logistical support, digital platform and data reporting, as well as bioinformatics and decision support services; RBC will contribute on-the-ground operational support for sample collection, testing, and sequencing.

Prof. Claude Muvunyi, the Director General of the Rwanda Biomedical Centre said, “As we continue to feel the impacts of emerging variants and pathogens, we recognize the need to create a sustainable public health and biosecurity infrastructure in Rwanda and internationally. We are thrilled to launch this program at Kigali International Airport in partnership with Ginkgo to enhance our biosecurity capabilities.”

Find the full press release here along with all of the latest news from the Ginkgo team.

What will you grow with Ginkgo?

Joining BDO Zone Strategic Alliance

As a partner in the technology group, Ginkgo will help de-risk and accelerate project development in BDO zones

Ginkgo is pleased to announce that we’ve joined the Bioeconomy Development Opportunity (BDO) Zone Strategic Alliance as a partner in the Technology Group.

BDO Zone Strategic Alliance Partners include some of the leading companies in the bioenergy industry that help de-risk biobased project development in BDO Zones.

Our vision of a thriving bioeconomy is aligned with the BDO Zone Initiative’s own goal of driving, accelerating and catalyzing biobased investment and commercial project development in communities across the US. As the Initiative aims to create 1,000 BDO Zones, we are thrilled to contribute efforts towards de-risking bio-based investments. By joining the Initiative, we also have the unique opportunity to better understand and address local customer needs for synthetic biology applications, while ultimately driving more value for biorefineries via the application of our synbio platform.

“The BDO Zone Initiative welcomes Ginkgo Bioworks as the newest addition to the growing Strategic Alliance,” said Jordan Solomon, President of Ecostrat. “Ginkgo’s robust technology, capabilities and connections in the biomanufacturing value chain will be fundamental to accelerating the bio-based economy in areas such as connecting feedstock supply, financial investment, bio-technology, process design, and construction to grow bio-manufacturing capacity.”

American biomass provides an economic development engine with the potential to create 160,000 jobs and nearly $15 billion of economic benefit. In Canada, the national economic impact potential is estimated at 16,060 direct, indirect, and induced jobs and over $1.48 billion annually of economic benefit. The BDO Zone Initiative can help North America realize this potential by supporting new market development for bioenergy, advanced biofuels, biobased heat and power, bio-materials, and clean hydrogen.

Find all the latest news from the Ginkgo team here.

What will you grow with Ginkgo?

Detecting Engineered Biology with IARPA & Draper

New technologies to detect engineered DNA

We’re proud to announce the completion of IARPA’s Finding Engineering-Linked Indicators (FELIX) — a program created to augment and improve current biodetection and biosurveillance capabilities. The program was a collaboration between the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA; the research and development arm of the U.S. Intelligence community), Draper (a nonprofit engineering innovation firm), and Ginkgo.

We’ve developed a suite of new computational tools for FELIX, while Draper has developed a new experimental platform to help detect and identify when samples include genetically engineered biological systems. The results from the program will be presented on October 17, 2022 at 11am on YouTube.

Current methods for detecting signs of biological engineering are typically costly, slow, and capable of detecting only a subset of all possible genetic modifications. In collaboration with IARPA, Ginkgo developed an initial set of computational tools called ENDAR (Engineered Nucleotide Detection and Ranking) that assist trained analysts to identify genetic engineering in next generation sequencing (NGS) datasets. This software aims to make it possible for scientists to detect engineered DNA at scale.

Breakthrough for biosecurity

“Through their work on the FELIX program, Ginkgo and Draper have achieved two major breakthroughs for the biodetection community,” said David A. Markowitz, Program Manager at IARPA. “The ability to detect genetic engineering in complex biological samples has long been a moonshot goal, and these new capabilities are poised to transform national biosecurity efforts.”

Designed to work across a range of biological organisms that may be found in complex, multi-species environments, ENDAR tools and methods could provide early alerts to the presence of engineered organisms and help expedite appropriate responses, thereby mitigating adverse consequences.

Ginkgo has a core belief in the promise of engineered biology—a thriving bio-based economy that delivers benefits to society, the environment, and our health. We care deeply about securing that vision by ensuring that biology is engineered and deployed responsibly. Working with IARPA, we’ve developed a fundamentally new biosecurity capability that will enhance our ability to detect, characterize, and respond to biological threats. We’re excited to explore opportunities to deploy ENDAR as an integral component of our global biosecurity platform.

Draper’s contributions to FELIX, under its contract with IARPA, include development of a lab-based genetic test, a custom bioinformatics pipeline that contextualizes DNA sequencing data and miniaturized microarray hardware all with the goal of characterizing otherwise impossible to detect genetic engineering. Potential applications include biothreat detection, environmental monitoring, and food inspection.

“At Draper, we believe that advances in gene editing technology are creating new opportunities for biosecurity,” said Laura Seaman, Principal Scientist and Machine Intelligence group leader at Draper. “Under the FELIX program, we have developed a device and associated lab and computational methods that are sensitive enough to pick out an engineered organism in a complex environmental background containing millions of natural organisms—the signal-to-noise ratio is a significant improvement over current methods.”

The event featured a panel with participants including, Catherine Marsh, IARPA Director; David A. Markowitz, IARPA Program Manager; Joshua Dunn, Head of Design, Ginkgo Bioworks; Laura Seaman, Principal Scientist and Machine Intelligence Group Leader, at Draper; and Erin Rosenberger, Senior Member of Technical Staff, Biological Microsystems Group, at Draper. During the panel, the panelists will discuss the program findings and also feature a demo of the research results.

Watch a livestream of the presentation of results from the FELIX program on October 17, 2022 at 11am here.

Find the full press release here along with all of the latest news from the Ginkgo team.

What will you grow with Ginkgo?

Synthetic Biology for Climate Action

We believe synthetic biology has an important role to play in addressing climate change.

Climate change is a global threat that requires immediate action. It’s already impacting every single person and living thing on our planet. The best time to address climate change was decades ago; the next best time? Now. So, what are we waiting for? Let’s go grow!

Limiting warming to below 1.5°C will require us to reimagine our industrial landscapes to eliminate emissions and to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Decarbonizing our energy, materials, chemicals, and food production will require massive shifts in how we make stuff.

We believe that synthetic biology has an important role to play in this climate transition, whether it’s the resilience of ecosystems and communities to a changing climate, the reduction of emissions through circular manufacturing, or the sequestration of carbon through soil, oceanic, lithospheric, or anthropogenic sinks. We believe synthetic biology is going to be one of the enabling technologies for this revolution.

Biology is natively the technology of climate: it makes our air, makes our food, and cleans our water. We believe the ability to engineer biology is ultimately the biggest climate technology in the world.

What are we waiting for? Let’s go grow!

Last week, we hosted a virtual event with several key thought leaders in the world of synthetic biology for climate tech. Over 650 people from the wider synthetic biology and climate tech communities tuned in to share their work and excitement. The panelists discussed carbon fixation and sequestration pathways, manufacturing scale up, and new business models for carbon capture. You can check out the recording of the main stage above or on Ginkgo’s YouTube channel.

Bill Gates recently said that climate tech will create 8 to 10 trillion dollar-scale companies. We believe that at least a few of those will be synthetic biology companies. You may be starting one of those companies right now—we’d love to help you accelerate your climate tech R&D with the tools of our platform. Reach out!

Project Update: COVID-19 DNA Synthesis

It’s been an intense and inspiring few weeks as our DNA synthesis team, Biofab, has been working hard to produce the first batch of SARS-CoV-2 protein constructs. This week, we sent the first 288 plasmids to Addgene and BioBricks Foundation, for distribution to academic and industrial labs.

The first set of plasmids consists of SARS-CoV-2 annotated proteins in E. coli and yeast vectors, with various C-terminal tags, suitable for protein expression and purification. We expect to send more from this set to Addgene and BioBricks Foundation each week, as well as mammalian expression constructs, additional Spike protein constructs for expression and VSV pseudotyping, and plasmids containing viral DNA. Check this repository for the full set of sequences already deposited and in our synthesis queue.

You should be able to access these sequences shortly from Addgene and BioBricks Foundation. If you have questions, other ideas, or a project that you think could benefit from access to Ginkgo’s foundries, please reach out to [email protected].

Scaling Up Whole Genome Sequencing of COVID-19

UPDATE: After publishing this blog, Ginkgo has determined that our NGS machines can be used for even higher priority uses to help communities respond to COVID-19. Please note we are continuing with this viral genome sequencing work but are focusing on providing some of the scaled capabilities to these other efforts.

Scaling up the infrastructure for testing and tracking COVID-19 is one of the most important things we can do at this stage of the pandemic. Towards this broader effort, at Ginkgo we are focusing our next generation sequencing (NGS) pipeline with a target of being able to sequence 10,000 full viral genomes per day from de-identified patient samples in order to effectively track the evolution of the virus as it spreads. We’re planning to work on this with clinical labs including the CLIA-approved testing facility at Battelle and we are actively seeking other collaborations with labs generating patient RNAs for sequencing—please reach out to us at [email protected].

Current testing methods

The United States has limited capabilities to detect new pathogens such as SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in infected individuals or environmental samples. Clinical laboratories rely on qPCR testing that reports the presence or absence of virus but provides no viral genetic sequence information.

Sequencing allows tracking of variants as the virus spreads throughout the population, enabling tracing transmission chains in time and location. Transmission chains critically inform public health control and containment measures, while knowledge of virus variability can guide the development of vaccines and cheap diagnostics.

Too few samples from infected individuals are currently being sequenced, and essentially no environmental samples are being tested. The ability to perform sequencing at enormous scale, to enable population-level testing and long-term surveillance, is needed.

With such a capability, tens of thousands of samples could be sequenced daily, including:

  • All patient-derived samples submitted to public health departments, etc.;
  • Random samples drawn from apparently well individuals; and
  • Diverse environmental samples, drawn from points of entry or transit, airplanes, trains, buses, and subways, other public places, and sewers.

Deep and broad sampling would provide data needed to determine incubation times, spread mechanisms, and prevalence, to gauge the extent of herd immunity, and to create predictive models that may guide containment efforts in this and future pandemics. As therapeutic options come available, we want to spot any emerging drug resistance or vaccine escape mutations.

Repurposing Ginkgo’s NGS pipeline

In a normal day at Ginkgo, we sequence DNA from thousands of different bacterial, fungal, and plant samples thanks to our automated sample preparation methods and terabyte-scale data de-multiplexing algorithms. These tools make it possible for us to quickly shift to sequencing up to ten thousand small viral genomes every day.

We can start from already extracted RNA from clinical labs, or use our automated sample preparation system and standard methods to extract RNA from patient samples or environmental swabs. Viral RNA would be amplified by reverse transcription using virus-specific primers (with human-specific primers serving as an internal positive control) to generate material suitable for our high-throughput NGS process. Our existing bioinformatics pipeline would be extended to quantify virus in each sample, report any failures to detect the positive control (indicating a sample which must be re-queued), and assemble the detected virus sequences and format them for submission to public and/or government databases.

We hope that this sequence data can serve public health efforts as well as the growing community of biologists and bioengineers working to track the virus and develop therapies and vaccines. Our approach would not be possible without the great open science exemplified by ARTIC Network, CDC, Nextstrain, and others. We look forward to a day very soon when we start adding to the database of publicly available viral sequences. We will be continuously looking to build the network of upstream collaborators that can generate RNA samples for analysis and ensure that our pipeline is doing the most good by sampling broadly.

Please spread the word so that we can ensure that samples which could be sequenced don’t languish in freezers, and if you are a clinical site generating patient RNAs we hope you’ll get in touch with us at [email protected] to start talking about how we can work with you.

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 [email protected].

* * *


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 [email protected].

Fighting COVID-19 by Synthesizing DNA

Researchers developing novel diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines against COVID-19 all rely on DNA encoding viral proteins as a first step for many different kinds of important experiments. As part of our ongoing COVID-19 related work at Ginkgo, we are collaborating with researchers at Stanford University’s Department of Bioengineering and using our DNA design and synthesis capabilities to build DNA that will enable researchers to express these viral proteins—for example the “spike” protein on the surface of the virus that is the target of the vaccine currently in clinical trials, as well as being used in developing rapid point of care diagnostics and antibody-based drugs. We’ll make this DNA available for distribution to academic institutions and companies via Addgene and the BioBrick Foundation’s Freegenes project.

What we’re making

Image result for covid-19

The virus is made up of 11 open reading frames that produce 16 mature non-structural proteins, as well as 4 structural proteins making up the spike, envelope, membrane, and nucleocapsid. The sequence of the genome is available here:  NC_045512.2 version of the SARS-CoV-2 viral genome

We’ll synthesize:

  •  the DNA encoding all of these SARS-CoV-2 proteins on plasmids for expression in E. coli and S. cerevisiae, along with pull down tags (e.g. 6xHis) and T7 promoter for mRNA production
  • Viral protein sequences with the addition of watermark sequences to identify them as synthetic
  • E. coli and S. cerevisiae-codon-optimized sequences

Do you have other ideas for sequences that would help rapidly boot up R&D for COVID-19? Please reach out to [email protected].

Safety Considerations for Cloning and Distribution

The synthesis of viral genetic sequences obviously comes with risks. Work on biosecurity to protect against the synthesis and release of harmful sequences has been a major priority at Ginkgo for a long time. You can read more about many of our efforts in biosecurity on our blog, or in this article from Bloomberg.

SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus and we will not be working with full length viral RNA or any live virus for this project. The NIH Guideline for Research categorizes isolated Coronavirus nucleic acids in Risk Group 2, which means that the cloning of DNA from coronaviruses into nonpathogenic prokaryotic or lower eukaryotic host-vector systems must be performed under BSL-2 containment. De novo synthesis of viral protein does not use full length viral RNA or DNA as input and results in non-infectious plasmid constructs, so can be conducted under BSL-1 containment. Storage and inoculation of frozen glycerol stocks containing cDNA constructs can be performed under BSL-1 as plasmids expressing individual proteins are not infectious.

Additionally, the International Gene Synthesis Consortium, which Ginkgo is a member of, states that:

 “IGSC companies will make gene-length sequences from nCov-2019. Under U.S. regulations, these sequences are legal and safe to manufacture and a very important part of vaccine and therapeutic development. If these sequences have certain similarity to SARS or other known regulated pathogens, the synthesis company/ordering institution may need to obtain an export license for shipping across national borders. IGSC members will not provide full length synthetic virus without specific and detailed vetting of ordering entities, and will require a license from the ordering institution from the relevant governing national licensing regimes (e.g. the Federal Select Agent Program in the US).”

Distribution of SARS-CoV-2 cDNA requires recipients to have export licenses, per 1C353 and 1C351 of this document. Distributors, such as Addgene or BBF, would be ultimately responsible for documenting and enforcing this export restriction.

Distribution of Material to Academic Organizations and Companies

Ginkgo will make available any synthesized constructs free or for a nominal fee to academic organizations and companies via a third party distributor, such as Addgene or the BioBrick Foundation, under a non-restrictive material transfer agreement such as the UBMTA or the Open MTA. If you have any questions or have ideas of other sequences that would be valuable to the biotech community fighting COVID-19, please reach out to [email protected].

Our Work on Biosecurity with IARPA

Project Update: Read about our progress on this project here!

Our mission is to make biology easier to engineer—that hasn’t changed for the ten years we’ve been building Ginkgo. The ability to read, write, and design DNA code is having profound positive impacts in medicine, agriculture, and manufacturing, from engineered cell therapies that can target a person’s cancer cells, to probiotics for plants that can reduce the need for nitrogen fertilizers, to sustainably grown materials.

We are working to unlock the enormous power of biology: its ability to grow sustainably, to process information, and adapt to changing environments. But we’re not naive to the potential risks. We understand that as it becomes easier to engineer biology, it will become easier to engineer the part of biology that’s dangerous to humans, animals, and plants—the pathogens and parasites that can infect us. Since researchers synthesized the polio virus in 2002, it has been technically possible to chemically synthesize viruses that infect humans

To date, the work done on synthesizing viruses has been intended for medical research and other peaceful purposes, but there is a concern that someone could theoretically produce a virus or other pathogen with the intent to harm. The intentional use of pathogens to harm others is abhorrent and something that I believe that we should never do under any circumstances—as a company and as human beings. The international community agrees with me on this: 180 countries including the United States are parties to the UN Biological Weapons Convention, which was first signed in 1972 and states that we are “never in any circumstance to develop, produce, stockpile, or otherwise acquire or retain: Microbial or other biological agents, or toxins…that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes.”

As the technology for synthesizing DNA code improves, groups from governments, industry, academia, and civil society have been developing frameworks for monitoring and assessing the safety and security of these new technologies. For example, we are a part of the international gene synthesis consortium, which developed standards for screening orders made to DNA synthesis companies. Our Head of Design, Patrick Boyle, was also recently on a panel convened by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to assess the risks of intentional misuse of synthetic biology.

Today we’re announcing Ginkgo’s biosecurity initiative that directly addresses some of these potential threats from engineered DNA sequences. Our current work on biosecurity focuses primarily on detecting potential threats using software that analyzes DNA sequences.

As part of IARPA’s (the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity) Fun GCAT program, we are developing software to monitor DNA synthesis. This software is intended to ensure that no one orders DNA sequences that could have a pathogenic function. Think of this like a malware detector in computer programming—“programs” being written in synthetic DNA will go through the detector software, which will flag any sequences of concern before they are synthesized. The custom software we’ve developed for designing DNA sequences in our foundries is a useful start for a project like this—we need to be able to predict the function of enzymes based on their sequences in order to design new functions in our engineered microbes. Rather than predicting if an enzyme sequence could be used to produce, say, a fragrance or vitamin, here we’re applying the same types of algorithms to predict whether a given bit of code could be potentially harmful.

Unlike computer viruses, however, new biological viruses can also evolve in the wild. When a new virus emerges, researchers quickly sequence it to understand where it came from and how to best treat it and develop vaccines against it. We’re addressing this as part of another software-based biosecurity initiative, IARPA’s Finding Engineered Linked Indicators (FELIX) program. Here we are using deep learning to identify if the sequence of a new pathogen developed naturally or was engineered by humans. We’re leveraging our experience engineering the world’s largest library of engineered DNA sequences to help us train the software to detect whether something has been engineered.

Beyond developing software to guide the detection of threats, synthetic biology can also be important for responding to emerging diseases, for example making rapid response vaccines. It’s been almost a decade since the Venter institute partnered with Novartis on rapid synthetic DNA based vaccine development and the technology has been exponentially improving since then. Working alongside other companies, universities, and government agencies, we’re excited to be part of groups involved in developing tools to prevent, diagnose, and treat current and emerging diseases.

Ginkgo is the leading developer of genetic engineering tools we have an obligation to ensure that these tools are responsibly used. We are inspired by the words of Andy Weber, the former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical & Biological Defense Programs under President Obama and a valued advisor to us here at Ginkgo on issues of biosecurity: we believe that while synthetic biology may lead to new risks, that these new tools also actually “offer the opportunity to take the global threat of biological weapons off the table.” By helping to develop software that can detect any threats before they materialize and develop the tools that can rapidly respond to emerging infectious diseases—natural or engineered—we hope to continue to drive the responsible growth of synthetic biology and realize its enormous potential for good.

For more on this story, check out Rebecca Spalding’s article in Bloomberg: “The DNA Cops Who Make Sure the World’s Deadliest Viruses Aren’t Rebuilt.