THINK BIO — A Campaign for Ginkgo Bioworks

1. Meaningless Words aka Buzzwords

The field of Synthetic Biology, similar to Silicon Valley, can be a breeding ground for coded language, jargon, and outright nonsense. Founders, scientists and investors juggle all-too-often-heard buzzwords to explain why the thing they do is just so much more special than all the other things out there. It seems that the Biotech industry has developed a unique culture with its own language. How are “muggles” supposed to understand what insiders are saying and why should they trust them?

2. Synthetic Biology Metaphors

Metaphors are not just rhetorical devices that can be used to cover things up. They are actually fundamental tools for thinking about the world and acting on it. They can create new meanings in any field, especially synthetic biology.

  • “Organisms are books” that can be read, edited, and written.
  • “Organisms are machines” that can produce “stuff” and “parts”.
  • “Organisms are computers” that can be programmed to do things.

3. Think Bio

Ginkgo Bioworks has to rethink the current tech-driven and overpromising rhetoric used to explain synthetic biology. The company needs to stand for authentic values. It needs to be authentic because authentic leaders know that being more authentic makes them more effective and successful.

“We get it. Computers are great. We use it every day for googling, zooming, and messaging. But what about the physical world? How to stay healthy and have a nutritious diet? How to protect your skin and consume sustainably? Think Bio.”

In addition, synthetic biology can be used to create entirely new things that can’t be created using traditional chemistry or physics. One example of this is Synlogic’s “living medicine”. We will need to expand our vocabulary to describe those new products and features. But also stories about the basics can help to capture the public’s imagination:

“You have no secrets from your cells. They know far more about you than you do. Each one carries a copy of your whole genome, the instruction manual for your body. So it knows not only how to do its job but every other job in the body. Think Bio.” (Inspired by Bill Bryson)

4. Cultural Risks

The commonly shared positive vision of the future offered by synthetic biology might face many cultural challenges. Achieving the vision will depend on how openly society will accept artificial life forms in our midst and our environment. The development of synthetic biology could trigger some strong concerns because synthetic biology enables human agency into the creation of life itself.

5. Brave New World

It’s easy to imagine a future where synthetic jellyfish roam looking for toxins to destroy, where eco-friendly plastics and fuels are harvested from fermentation tanks filled with yeast, and where bacteria is programmed to kill cancer cells.

O wonder! / How many goodly creatures are there here! / How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, / That has such people in’t.” (William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V, Scene I, ll. 203–206)

Let us be brave but also thoughtful when we “Think Bio” and create a future that we all want.

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