Expanding Biosecurity Frontiers: Ginkgo Bioworks, CDC, and XpresCheck Amplify Genomic Surveillance at US Airports

Ginkgo Bioworks, alongside the CDC and XpresCheck, is scaling up the Traveler-based Genomic Surveillance program across new US airport locations, bolstering biosecurity efforts against emerging pathogens and reinforcing readiness in public health response.
Policy & Public
March 12, 2024

Ginkgo Bioworks (NYSE: DNA), a pioneer in cell programming and biosecurity, alongside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and XpresCheck, operated by XWELL, Inc. (Nasdaq: XWEL), a leader in onsite pathogen screening, have revealed plans to broaden the CDC's Traveler-based Genomic Surveillance program (TGS) to new collection sites at US international airports in Miami (MIA) and Chicago (ORD). Ginkgo Bioworks is sponsoring SynBioBeta 2024, and you can learn more about them at the event

With a surge in program funding and an expanded scope, doubling the CDC's current investment in TGS, the initiative aims to significantly boost the collection, testing, and sequencing of nasal and wastewater samples using a specialized multipathogen panel. This infusion of funds will also escalate the program's reach to encompass a total of nine active airport sites: Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York (JFK), Washington Dulles, Newark, Boston, Seattle, Miami, and Chicago.

Since its launch in September 2021, the TGS program has proven its efficacy as an early warning system for emerging pathogens and has bridged gaps in global biosurveillance.

The program has identified various novel strains of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus responsible for COVID-19) using diverse sample sources, including nasal swabs from anonymous international travelers and wastewater samples from airplanes and airport facilities. In October 2023, the program expanded its coverage to include over 30 viral and bacterial targets.

The initial phase of multipathogen testing and sequencing in November and December 2023 yielded promising results, with the TGS program detecting positive samples containing several noteworthy pathogens, such as influenza A and B, RSV, and Mycoplasma pneumoniae, a bacterium linked to pneumonia.

"We are thrilled to have the opportunity to take the TGS program to the next level.  Multipathogen biomonitoring expands this critical biosecurity infrastructure for the United States," said Matt McKnight, General Manager for Biosecurity at Ginkgo Bioworks. "The frequency of new outbreaks around the world reminds us every day that persistent and strategically focused biosurveillance is paramount to ensure readiness and rapid response. We are honored that CDC continues to trust this consortium to deliver a strategic piece of our biothreat preparedness."

"We are excited to elevate the TGS program to new heights. Multipathogen biomonitoring enhances this crucial biosecurity infrastructure for the United States," stated Matt McKnight, General Manager for Biosecurity at Ginkgo Bioworks. "The frequency of global outbreaks underscores the imperative of continuous and targeted biosurveillance to ensure preparedness and swift response. We are honored by the CDC's ongoing confidence in our consortium to furnish a strategic component of our biothreat preparedness."

The program remains at the forefront of pathogen genomics and biosecurity by introducing novel collection methods, expanding to fresh locations, and refining the roster of target pathogens to offer a clearer understanding of pathogens circulating within the international travel network. It is underpinned by robust operational collaborations.

"This expansion demonstrates the continued capability of the TGS program and is a further realization of the goal set out by the CDC and the Federal Government to incorporate this program as part of a permanent biosecurity effort in the United States," said Ezra Ernst, CEO of XpresCheck. "It allows us to continue providing a frontline defense against potential pathogens entering our country and reinforces our commitment to public health."

"The additional funding of the program allows us to add infrastructure to support new mobile testing centers at Miami International Airport and Chicago O'Hare International Airport. It will also enable us to increase testing capacity at existing airports, reinforcing our position as the largest consortium of partners in the biosecurity space," added Ernst.

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