Ginkgo Brings Biotech’s Groundbreaking Moment Closer With Partnerships and AI

Ginkgo Bioworks recently decided to open up some of its experimental services to the community, royalty free, with transparent pricing, which could help startups accelerate their timelines, and the whole synthetic biology field make giant strides forward.
Emerging Technologies
Konstantinos Vavitsas, PhD
May 3, 2024

A few weeks ago, Eric Schmidt wrote an article arguing that we should prepare for biotech’s “ChatGPT” moment. With the power of AI and the tools of synthetic biology, biotech is closer than ever to a world where algorithms can train on experimental data and theoretical designs and predict new, optimized sequences, improved strains, and new functions performed by biology. Moreover, Gingko is bringing this future even closer by bringing its Lab Data as a Service to the community.

In a recent keynote address at Ferment, Ginkgo Bioworks’ annual conference, Jason Kelly, co-founder and CE, made a significant announcement. The company is opening up its antibody development and enzyme performance assays to the community in a royalty-free, IP-free manner. This initiative is a testament to Ginkgo's commitment to making its technology more accessible, making the audience feel included and valued in the same community. “We spent ten years building a foundry that meets the needs of our engineers,” Kelly told me in a recent interview. "Now, I want your scientists to have access to the same services.”

Jason Kelly presenting at 2023's Global Synthetic Biology Conference

Ginkgo understands that not every synbio startup has the capacity and know-how to build a biofoundry. Consequently, an innovative software company with smart algorithms on biological design couldn’t validate their predictions and couldn’t further train their models to develop. However, such a company can now use Ginkgo’s lab-sharing service or join its platform as a technology partner. A good example of such a partnership took place with Cradle, a protein engineering startup that used Ginkgo's know-how and infrastructure to expand the reach and applications of their services. Customers using Cradle’s design tools now have the option to press a button and send their constructs to Ginkgo and see the experimental results in the Cradle interface a few weeks later!

Kelly’s keynote, which can be found on YouTube, along with the rest of the Ferment recordings, highlights Ginkgo’s focus on growing its AI capabilities and leveraging the power of the new tools. Kelly also notes that the company’s fastest-growing area is its Biopharma sector. He mentioned that pharmaceutical companies are their most demanding customers. They already have sophisticated tools and advanced infrastructure, and new service providers need to provide value and prove their worth. And given Ginkgo’s increasing footprint in the field, they are succeeding on both ends!

Ginkgo Ferment 2024

The rapid development of generative AI has raised concerns about malignant use and negative societal consequences. As biology has tremendous potential and implications in human health, nutrition, and most existing and evolving industries, the community needs to keep an eye on AI trained on DNA sequences and biological data. Kelly revealed that the US government is monitoring the developments in this sector from a national security standpoint. He is not so concerned about rogue actors that will use the new technologies to weaponize biology. “The biggest natural security risk is that the US is not the first country to reach the ‘aha moment’ where generative DNA models transform biotech,” he noted.

In an ideal innovation world, a space startup would access the knowledge of NASA and SpaceX. An electric vehicle company could consult Tesla engineers. Cosmetics innovators would use the assays developed by P&G, and synthetic biologists could become Gingko scientists for a day and engineer biology at a scale unavailable anywhere else. Well, the last part is now a possibility. Ginkgo understands that big data and infrastructure, tied with innovative thinking and motivated scientists, is the way to fasten synbio’s transformational potential. And, true to its mission of “making biology easier to engineer,” it lends its $1B worth of biofoundry to the community without asking for royalties or IP sharing.

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