A Letter from Our Founders

Dear stockholders, team, customers, suppliers, friends, and community,

Biology is special. Many of the most important things in our lives come from biology. Our food. Our oxygen. Most of our medicines. Our pets. Our families.

Our children are born with wonder about the living world of animals and plants, but we encourage them to grow out of their dinosaur-loving phase and to focus on our human-built world of technology instead. Perhaps it is time to change that.

We have previously called biology “the most powerful manufacturing technology on the planet,” but it is incorrect to call biology a technology. Technologies are invented by humans. We didn't invent biology—biology invented us.

If you compare biology to our human-engineered technologies, our technologies come up laughably short. Biology grows, building itself with no need for factories. Biology repairs itself, healing wounds and illness. If you look at it under a microscope, its atomic structures put our most precise construction techniques, like semiconductor manufacturing, to shame.

To top it off, biological materials are perfectly recyclable. And most importantly, biology self-replicates—it is alive.

To be fair, humans have only spent about ten thousand years developing technologies. Biology has had a 4 billion year head-start on us. Humans, however, have recently invented two very important technologies—reading and writing DNA.

In 1952, Rosalind Franklin took the first X-ray picture of DNA. Her image showed that DNA was a double helix, a twisted ladder of paired “letters” that made a molecular code. The code was made up of A’s, T’s, C’s, and G’s instead of 0’s and 1’s like computer code, but it was digital, and its structure implied that someday we would be able to read and write it.

In 1976, Genentech (which originally held Ginkgo’s new stock ticker, DNA) brought DNA writing to the world by building on the academic work of its founder Herbert Boyer, who “cut-and-pasted” the first gene from one species to another in 1973.

Genentech launched the first biotech therapeutic, human insulin for diabetics, and then vertically integrated to become a pharmaceutical company. Today, more than a third of new therapeutic drugs are made from biotechnology.

The tools for DNA writing have greatly expanded since 1976—CRISPR allows targeted DNA edits, DNA printing allows long pieces of DNA to be written from scratch—and every day, the cost and scale of our ability to write DNA improves.

The cost of reading DNA has fallen more than a million-fold since the completion of the Human Genome Project twenty years ago. The era of Moore’s Law is coming to a close, but biology’s exponentials are just beginning.

At Ginkgo we are unifying these tools into a horizontal platform for programming cells across organisms. We make this platform available to customers who want to program cells for applications in food, medicine, cosmetics, agriculture, materials, or any other market.

We believe that biology can impact all industries that produce physical goods, because biology makes stuff, and it evolves to solve new problems. Today the world faces many problems, and we hope that biology can help us meet those challenges.

But biology is not (yet) easy to engineer. We started Ginkgo in 2008, bootstrapping off of small government grants, and know first-hand how hard and expensive it is to program cells. It took us many years from when we built our first lab with equipment foraged out of MIT dumpsters before our costs per experiment were lower than what skilled PhDs could do by hand in well-resourced labs. These costs limited what cell programmers believed possible.

As we scaled our platform, we were able to support more applications; our goal is to continue to open up the design of biology to more people to pursue more possibilities limited only by imagination.

This is a unique moment in our relationship with biology. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how a tiny bit of RNA code can upend our entire world and how mRNA vaccines can give us hope that we can bring the pandemic under control.

It is also a reminder that while biology is programmable like a computer, it is not predictable like a computer. At Ginkgo, we have not left our dinosaur-loving phase, and we remember the lessons of Jurassic Park well: life finds a way.

Life—biology—deserves our respect, and we must think not only about what we can do with cell programming but also what we should do. Engineers often say that technology is neutral; we believe that we cannot remain neutral when it comes to the use of powerful technologies—we must care how our platform is used.

Cell programming is helping us return to “normal” with the unprecedented speed of new vaccines reaching people’s arms. But “normal” must change—“normal” is what made it possible for a pandemic to spread unchecked around the world. “Normal” is leading to the rapid, catastrophic warming of our planet. We believe we are coming up on an era of significant change for the human species.

We have recognized the limitations of our human-engineered technologies as they negatively impact the environment—and we are working to fix it. We are looking to the stars and planning how to make our species multi-planetary—a task that will need a lot of new biology as biology provides all of Earth's life support!

Cell programming will be a key technology enabling a new normal and a fundamental change in how we relate to nature, to disease, and to technology.

Ginkgo’s mission is to make biology easier to engineer. We were the kids dreaming about dinosaurs and learning how to program computers. Today we dream that kids in the future will be learning how to program cells.

There will be dragons,

Austin Che, Barry Canton, Jason Kelly, Reshma Shetty and Tom Knight

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