Inside a Synthetic DNA Factory That’s Building New Forms of Life

Inside this advanced foundry, biologists,
software engineers, and a fleet of automated robots are working side by side to crank up
the speed of nature. They’re taking synthetic DNA, remixing it
and programming microorganisms, turning these living samples into mini-factories that could
one day pump out new foods, fuels, and medicines. Every piece of DNA here is barcoded and cataloged
in what’s considered the world’s largest genetically engineered strain bank. This biological assembly line is at the heart
of an emerging field that’s raising billions of dollars and attracting a ton of attention:
synthetic biology. We are surrounded by biology. It’s personal care products, it’s the clothes
we wear in the form of cotton and hemp.. it’s the houses we live in, it’s gasoline, it’s
medicine. And because biology is in everything, if we
have the power to engineer biology, we have the power to affect every single aspect of
our life. Nature’s had billions of years of trial
and error to engineer biology and select its best designs. But we only just figured out how to read the
source code 50 years ago. Because every living thing – you, me, this
exotic bird, that oozing amoeba – are built from a unique set of instructions that come
down to just four letters. It’s the DNA that designs what the microorganism
does, it’s the DNA that decides what the organism looks like, how it acts, if it will grow or
if it will not grow, it all comes down to DNA. But thanks to a few technology curves, we
can now read, write, cut, and paste DNA faster and cheaper than ever, creating a whole new
set of instructions beyond what nature intended. Synthetic biology is defined not by tools,
but by intent. The vast majority of biologists in the world
are looking to understand something more about nature. And discover some secrets of nature as an
end in of itself. And that’s a profoundly empowering pursuit. What we’re trying to do in synthetic biology
instead is, engineer nature to do something that we want it to. So synthesize a vitamin. Or detect something in the environment. Or make a food product that you don’t normally
make. If you’ve ordered an Impossible Whopper
at Burger King, you’ve taken a bite of an engineered food product. “The “meat flavor” comes from heme, an iron
containing molecule from a special soybean protein, that was isolated from fermented
yeast. Tasty. The goal, and the intention, is purely different. It’s to elicit a function, and create a product,
create an item, create a cellular machine. Thinking of cells as programmable machines
is a convergence of biology, engineering, and computing. It sees the building blocks of life that form
cells and then tissues and so on – as parts that can be re-assembled, programmed, and
standardized. Just like transistors and logic gates inside
a computer chip. A computer understands zeros and ones. That’s the code. You can see biology in very much the same
way, where DNA is a code. And if you can work with that, you can encode
your organism. This all sounds like they’re making GMOs,
and you’d be right to make that association. Synthetic biology does leverage genetic engineering
as a tool in its toolkit. But instead of engineering wheat by adding
or tweaking a specific gene to make it more drought resistant for instance, synthetic
biology has the potential to turn that it into something totally different. You can create code that does not exist anywhere
in nature. You can make up your complete own code. Josh and Jaide both work at Ginkgo Bioworks,
a synthetic biology start-up that’s kicking this concept into high gear. They have unconventional titles, like organism
engineer and head of design, and give much of the lab benchwork to the robots, freeing
up their time for designing and tweaking. It’s like taking a tour through the visitor’s
center at Jurassic Park, just swap the dino blood for e.coli. We did a rough count the other day, and realized
that we have worked in over 50 organisms, or so, in the last year. Some organisms are really good at making proteins. Some are really good at making fatty hydro-phobic
molecules. Some are good at making drugs and vitamins. Some are really easy, genetically, to manipulate. And so, rather than reinvent that in some
organism, we want to make use of that. Once you pick an organism you want to run
with, how exactly do you engineer it to do what you want? At Ginkgo, it’s a classic engineering cycle:
design – build – test. I lead a group of computational biologists,
and data scientists that is designing the experiments, designing the DNA’s, designing
the organisms and the genotypes to support the various organism engineering programs. I work with the foundry to make sure that
the overall vision of the organism engineering gets fulfilled. So step one is identify the DNA that you need,
and have the DNA synthesized. High throughput DNA synthesis means that we
can actually design DNA in a computer. And then actually have a machine make it,
without us having physically stitched together all of these different pieces of DNA in the
lab. So that’s changed our ability to write DNA,
and create DNA, really, really profoundly. As a graduate student, when I was doing an
experiment, I was always thinking about the ten or the 20 samples, that I could physically
handle on my own. And fit into an apparatus to answer a question
I cared about. Here we can do things at scale. We will design a library of a thousand or
5,000 genes, and then we can take those and screen those all in one go, find the best
candidates, and then use those to build the best possible pathway. After we’ve put a nice pathway together, we
will start improving the strains. We have protein engineers, so if we need to
modify our proteins to become more efficient or be more specific. We can use them for that task, we have data
scientists, we have experts in machine learning and artificial intelligence. Our foundry is basically an automated laboratory. We have different platforms of technologies
put together to be able to do everything from generating the DNA, to putting it into strains,
to growing them in fermenters and testing how they would potentially look at in industrial
scales. Every piece of DNA ever made every container,
every reagent, everything has a barcode. For every strain we make, we generate a lot
of data. All that data will be put into our database
that has been designed by our software engineers. Right now, rough order of magnitude, I think
we’re doing millions of operations per month. But even with this operational efficiency
and rapid prototyping, biology is still a messy science and they’re constantly going
back to the drawing board. For me, this makes it really fun. A good experiment is something that tells
you you were wrong. And that’s a moment when you learn something
new, and when you change the plan. So, we do it all the time. Because there is so much knowledge we don’t
have, it’s very much a numbers game. The more we can test, the higher probability
we have of success, and the more things we test, the more knowledge we accumulate. And all that knowledge can be reused for future
projects. It’s a grand vision: seeing biology as a symbiotic
manufacturing technology and rewiring organisms to do what we want them to do. This could be applied to so many problems
that the potential seems limitless. We started out many, many years ago, actually
working in flavors and fragrances. Which it seems like a little frivolous, but
there’s a lot of interesting biology there. A lot of flavors and fragrances are extracted
from really rare plants, that only grow in specific climates. Or plants that are growing extinct. And if we can actually bring those out of
luxury markets. And make those sustainably. Then those environments, those biomes, can
actually thrive and survive. We’re trying to engineer bacteria to sense
and to respond to treat complex diseases. Some of the things I’m most excited about
now, actually, are agriculture. A lot of people don’t realize it. But about 3% of the world’s carbon budget
is spent making chemical fertilizer every year. So we started a joint venture to develop organisms
that can both fix nitrogen, so basically fertilize soil. And form symbioses with grain crops. We try to make biology easier to engineer,
to create solutions that will help ensure a sustainable future, not to destroy it. Yet with this new venture comes the opposite side of the coin: the risks. There’s still a lot we don’t understand
about fundamental biology, and while nothing’s left the lab yet for Ginkgo, scientists are
tinkering with life’s building blocks and rewriting its code right now. What would our world look like with more synthetic
organisms and products in circulation? And with the pace and cost of these technologies
becoming more accessible than ever, what’s the risk of someone turning a synthetic organism
into a dangerous pathogen? These are open questions and challenges ahead,
and will take a mix of policy experts, scientists, and government leaders to figure out as the
field speeds forward, one gene tweak at a time.


  1. Omg this crap is so freaking scary! They could be changing our DNA makeup God only knows what there doing and your first mistake would be to think this is for the better of Humanity!!

  2. Look at all the stuff they came from Planned Parenthood not to mention they got all those women freezing their eggs on ice and all those donations from all the men and they're ramping up military power and forces all over the world remember they don't need a woman's lining any longer they're making testing babies and they got the artificial womb and they've been doing that with animals are also storing seeds and plants and insects you don't need the human population no more they could just hit it with a 25 year Fallout nuke low yield repopulate the Earth and it was women that gave him the keys to do this s*** and you're telling me they're going to be making new fuels and new foods and new life-forms that's almost like playing God oh that's right our government already does that and not to mention they can make a rat live three times as lifespan you think they can't do that to humans already what that would be breaking the law wouldn't it well or governments don't believe in the law they believe it's not breaking the law if you don't get caught and some of them work above the law

  3. I just want dragon flys to have bombardier beetle and electric eel dna so that they can shoot mosquitoes out of the air with an engineered plasma gun organ…

  4. The problem I have is in 10 or 20 years when the technology has become easy to use and the knowledge we’ve gained gives everyone the ability to alter the genetic structure of DNA and make a synthetic life form, what if some distraught technician who had societal issues decides to let a destructive germ loose because he can’t get with a woman?
    Right now we have socially awkward individuals who buy firearms and shoot Up schools, or hacker nerds who just want to watch the world burn because no one wants to touch their private parts, what happens when the biotechnology industry has a case of this and we end up with a strain of bacteria that destroys plankton and breaks the food chain?

  5. Experiments to possibly accelerate natural process and sidestep natural selection? Hmmmmm?
    Sounds like a parallel storyline I heard somewhere else……. maybe even in a different, dead language?



    C O L L A P S E

  7. Can we make synthetic plants which can harvest metals from soil.. plant them near some metal mine, they can extract metal from soil and make metal fruit or something like that.. it can help miners from hazardous mining environment..

  8. All those robotics work on moving parts with gears and stepper motors and bearings and linear actuators and pumps. I've been in several labs that have machines that aren't working and are too costly to repair, or just break down too often to use, as well as machines that just can't reproduce the accuracy of a human (weird, I know). Seems like electronics and robotics will be a good career bet for the automated future, along with your AI/machine learning/data science and genetic engineering.

  9. I don’t understand how this is legal this looks like the beginning of a fucked up movie what’s the end of the world.

  10. If everything goes right with bio engineering then we have a bright future….or else Welcome to the era of The Walking Dead😱😂

  11. After watching this video, sure looks like it's saying they're saying…it's great trying to play God. It's not a grand vision, but a grand delusion.

  12. I’m concerned that a company making new organisms, where there is a possibility of creating something very dangerous, is so lackadaisical about safety that most of the people doing bench work do not wear lab coats or goggles.

  13. Look at how young they all are! No one over 40 working there. I hope they don't get caught up in their altruism/cult-like company lines and get taken advantage of.

  14. What’s up with this ASMR whispering narrator shit? For fucks sake just talk normally, idk who thought it’s a fine idea to make it sound like you’re 2 inches away just breath-dumping into my un-consenting ears like you’re about to Bill Cosby a motherfucker all up in their personal space & shit

  15. I'm very skeptical about men meddling with DNA. Everything men touch in Nature gets worse! Now we can buy seedless, tasteless fruit a d vegetables from our supermarkets! There's a plum tree on my way to work, I picked it sometimes and they were delicious! Yesterday I bought a pack of plums from a supermarket and it had almost no flavour.

  16. For the evolutionists out there, this is why evolution doesn't make any sense. These scientists have definite purposes in mind. They then work with coding and tweak their designs for the end goal. God made man and all the creatures. He designed things to work in certain ways. The common rebuttal by evolutionists is what about the errors, disease and mutations. Anyone who is familiar with the fall of man will realize that the curse upon man extended beyond man's mortality – it touched everything – with the hope that man may come to his senses and show true gratitude to the Creator and also so that man can see that sin, ie. disobedience and a life away from God results in bad things happening.
    Oh and about the errors that biologists find – with extra research they find out (case by case) that these actually weren't errors but turn out to be essential mechanisms. But evolutionists assume many things. They already have a mindset that insists certain things. Subjective observations leads twisted conclusions. It's called bad science.

  17. What will happen when the nitrogen producing bacteria produce far too much nitrogen and can't be "shut off"? For these experiments to be ethically used in real world scenarios, these companies must be made to have a fail safe system in place or "off" switch for each one of these "assets".

  18. The return of Lord Jesus is when knowledge is increased and real and unreal is indistinguishable…
    We are now living in those prophesied times😁😁😁
    Truly the words of God are not infallible😀…He will return soon

  19. Idk cause nature has spent billions of years striking a balance while eliminating undesirable DNA codes in the process, so by reintroducing these failed codes we maybe asking for trouble 🙁 the current state of discombobulated humanity is not ready imo

  20. This is why aliens dont talk to us…
    (Aside from a long history of war, treating eachother, the planet, and all life like an expendable resource that's was put here for us, oh yhea Hitler happened too…)

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