The highly mechanized lab — operated by Ginkgo Bioworks, a fast-growing start-up in Boston — is an engine room of synthetic biology, an emerging field that applies the tools of engineering and computing to make entirely new organisms or genetically turbocharge existing ones.
Proponents of synthetic biology say the field could reprogram biology to increase food production, fight disease, generate energy and purify water. The realization of that potential lies decades in the future, if at all. But it is no longer the stuff of pure science fiction because of advances in recent years in biology, computing, automation and artificial intelligence.
Money is pouring into the field. Research universities, government agencies and major chemical and pharmaceutical corporations like Bayer and Merck are pursuing projects in the area. Yet so are smaller companies like Ginkgo.
Young synthetic biology companies raised nearly $8 billion last year from venture capitalists and initial public offerings worldwide, more than double the level in 2019, according to SynBioBeta, an industry newsletter. This year, total funding could surpass $30 billion, SynBioBeta predicts.