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Synthetic Biology Technology

Ginkgo raises $70m to boost Covid-19 testing in the US

Strategic investment from Illumina and others enables large-scale Covid-19 testing using next generation sequencing, Ginkgo said.

As programmers of DNA, we recognise rapid pandemic response as an essential technology that must be built alongside biological engineering.”

Biotechnology company Ginkgo Bioworks has raised $70m to help boost DNA-based Covid-19 testing in the US.

The US-based company received its investment from biotechnology firm Illumina and existing Ginkgo investors, General Atlantic and Viking Global Investors.

Ginkgo is looking to repurpose the DNA-sequencing and automation infrastructure it developed to read and modify living cells to help address the country’s shortfall of diagnostic testing.

The World Health Organization has asserted that large-scale testing is essential for slowing the spread of viruses.

For Covid-19, experts suggest millions of tests are needed per day in the US to control this epidemic. In a statement, Ginkgo said it aimed to achieve “unprecedented scale with its automation capabilities, leveraging Illumina’s (@illumina) next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology to enable widespread testing for Covid-19″.

Originally designed for sequencing the 3 billion base pair human genome, NGS equipment can read, process and analyse many DNA and RNA samples in parallel on one machine. These machines can be utilised to detect the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, enabling tens of thousands of tests to be run at the same time on equipment the size of a washing machine.

Coupled with Ginkgo’s (@ginkgo) hardware and software that is designed for the large-scale automation of biological experiments, NGS has the potential to significantly increase COVID-19 testing capacity, contributing to the testing volume that many public health experts believe is necessary for slowing the spread of the virus.

Ginkgo is deploying its resources toward building an epidemic monitoring and diagnostic testing facility in its Boston Seaport labs, developing processes that use Illumina’s NGS technology for large-scale testing, in addition to whole genome sequencing and environmental monitoring.

Currently in an early build phase, Ginkgo aims to have NGS-based testing capacity available to help reopen schools and businesses. Additionally, Ginkgo has already made its current NGS capacity available at no cost to public health departments across the US – this NGS data is invaluable for public health efforts, such as contact tracing and understanding community spread, the company said. Whole genome sequencing data also provide deep insights for global research to track the virus and develop therapies and vaccines.

“As programmers of DNA, we recognise rapid pandemic response as an essential technology that must be built alongside biological engineering,” said Jason Kelly (@jrkelly), CEO and co-founder of Ginkgo Bioworks. “The infrastructure we are building for next-generation sequencing is critical for responding to the current pandemic, as well as providing early detection and response for the future.”


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