Is biological design the future of everything?

By Deanna Utroske contact

- Last updated on GMT

image via Ginkgo Bioworks
image via Ginkgo Bioworks
Christina Agapakis, creative director of the biotech company Ginkgo Bioworks, thinks it is. So when Cosmetics Design visited the company’s labs in Boston, Massachusetts, late last month, she shared insight into the expansive possibilities that biological design has for cosmetics, personal care, and fragrance—and explained why Ginkgo has launched an on-sight creative residency program.

Ginkgo Bioworks specializes in biological design; that is, creating biotech methods to make things (usually at industrial scale). But the company is industry agnostic; Ginkgo doesn’t work exclusively with beauty makers, or agricultural companies, or pharma corporations, or textile manufacturers. Ginkgo works with everyone.  

Gingkgo engineers microorganisms like yeast, or algae, or bacteria to be factories that produce molecules. Designers at the company cut and paste bits of DNA altering the jobs of, say, 1 to 10 enzymes involved in the organism’s metabolism to get the desired results. So design and creativity are very much a part of everyday work in the labs.

With thousands of genes per microorganism, and technology improving all the time, the full extent of what can done with biological design is unknown and limited only by the imagination.

Creative in residence

This is where the company’s residency program comes in. Besides serving as the creative director of Ginkgo Bioworks, Christina Agapakis is curator of the company’s new creative residency program, an initiative to bring creative professionals into the labs and offices of Ginkgo to trade ideas with the biological engineers and designers there, to imagine and invent the future along with the Ginkgo team.

Textiles designer Natsai Chieza was the company’s first artist in residence last summer. In fact, she helped formalize the program for future creative residents. Describing her own career in design, Chieza writes in a blog post for Ginko, “I am free to deal with a design problem by blending different fields of knowledge without prejudice.”

“I’d argue that this culture of multidisciplinary ‘doing’ is simply what it is to be a designer,” ​says Chieza, “to have a firm grasp of the multitudes of elements and actors that give form, life, and reason to any endeavour, regardless of its beginnings.” ​(Read her full blog post here​.)

This concept also seems to inform the residency program itself. Not a startup accelerator or business incubator program, the Ginkgo creative residency program is about making and about facilitating a transfer of technologies, of information, and of creativity that otherwise may never happen.

Applicants for the program range widely in their interests, according to Agapakis. She tells Cosmetics Design that this summer’s applicant pool includes people working in industry, in food, in fashion, in academia, in technical fields, in medicine, etc. Ginkgo will announce this summer’s creative soon. And that person will spend three months collaborating with the company, beginning in September.

Beauty in the lab

Many of the companies Gingko works with have understandably asked the biotech firm not to discuss their business with the press. But Ginkgo clients like Cargill, ADM, and Kerry Group in the food industry; Bayer in the agricultural sector (that company actually partnered with Ginkgo Bioworks to form Joyn Bio); and Robertet in the fragrance business aren’t so guarded.

Robertet has been working with Ginkgo for years now. In 2015, Cosmetics Deign reported on how the two companies teamed up to develop new fragrance molecules​ using designer yeast. And when that project led to an industrial scale production strategy, this publication reported on that as well​.

Ginkgo has also teamed up with other biotech companies, like Amyris, to work on personal care and cosmetic ingredients​. So, perhaps biological design is the future of beauty.

This article was updated 8-June-2018 to more clearly state that Joyn Bio is a partnership between Ginkgo Bioworks and Bayer, rather than a client of Ginkgo Bioworks.

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DeannaUtroskeEditor

Deanna Utroske, CosmeticsDesign.com Editor, covers beauty business news in the Americas region and publishes the weekly Indie Beauty Profile column, showcasing the inspiring work of entrepreneurs and innovative brands.

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