Need to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere? They can engineer the insides of a bacterium to do just that. Want clean, biologically based fuels to replace petroleum taken from the ground? Company scientists will design a microbe to poop those out.
Ginkgo is, in essence, a 21st century factory of life. The researchers working there specialize in synthetic biology, a field that seeks to build living things from the ground up. After envisioning what they want new organisms to do, Ginkgo biologists actually grow vials full of redesigned cells. […]
Synthetic biology was born a little more than a decade ago, an offshoot of traditional genetic engineering but distinct in its ambitions, precision and mind-set. Instead of randomly tweaking the genetic blueprints of living organisms and then working backward to identify a cell with a desirable trait, the new field offered the power of designing and building cells with novel functions. Its pioneers dreamed of making armies of organisms that could produce alternative fuels, churn out drugs to battle disease or fill every stomach on the planet by squeezing more food out of each crop acre.
Now, synthetic biologists have laid the groundwork for that radical new future, by building biology’s version of Silicon Valley. One research team has created a new and more complex set of biological building blocks that snap together like Legos, bringing large-scale production of engineered organisms closer to reality. Other scientists have hooked those parts up in a complex living analog of an electrical circuit and programmed it, much like programming a computer. Researchers are now writing code to make cells do things never before thought possible, like hunt down and kill cancer cells.