A New Age for International Biosecurity: A Discussion at #GinkgoFerment 2023

May 05 2023

As we shift mindsets from traditional thinking about biosecurity into the post-COVID-19 age, the challenges ahead require us, along with international partners, to ask questions and propose solutions to build a roadmap for the future of biosecurity.

At Ferment 2023, the annual conference celebrating the synthetic biology ecosystem hosted by Ginkgo Bioworks, biosecurity and national security industry leaders weighed in with their thoughts about the foundations of the biosecurity industry and some of the challenges we face as we build technologies for the future.

Applying cybersecurity methodologies to biosecurity

The advent of the information age underscored the need for cybersecurity, and those same strategies can be applied to biosecurity as the growing threat of infectious diseases continues.

“It’s important to look at technologies that have come before as we apply them to biotechnology,” said Michelle Rozo, VP of Technology at In-Q-Tel, on the panel.

Rozo stressed the importance of prioritizing moving toward a unified international biosecurity framework. “Biology doesn’t respect borders; it is self-sustaining. So we need to have these discussions now. We need to have them with the private sector, with the public sector, [and] with international colleagues.”

Panelists also discussed the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning tools and how similar approaches can be used to shape biosecurity policies.

“What we are witnessing with Chat GPT is this full-scale scramble that’s been generated by a signature public breakthrough, and it’s promising to disrupt business models. It’s moving governments all over the world and citizens alike. It’s capturing the imagination of everyone. And we haven’t had the Chat GPT moment for biotechnology yet,” said Megan Frisk, Senior Advisor and Biotechnology Policy Coordinator of the U.S. Department of State. “So why does this matter for biosecurity? We are at this inflection point where we don’t have the hype machine forcing us to take action. So we actually have this time now where we can think, we can resource, we can plan, [and] we can act methodically to build our bio future.”

Thinking about biosecurity on a bigger scale

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ginkgo Biosecurity built and implemented a domestic “radar” system within schools and senior living facilities to collect nasal and wastewater samples, interpret data, and monitor the spread of the COVID-19 virus so that detection could inform a thoughtful response. The same applications and capabilities of modern tools of biotechnology can be applied and scaled internationally through the use of airport surveillance testing and wastewater monitoring.

“This is a platform that can monitor for lots of different types of infectious diseases,” said Matt McKnight, Ginkgo Biosecurity’s General Manager during his talk at the Ferment conference. “What’s cool about this program is it starts to move us to this next layer of what people talk about as the global immune system.”

Ginkgo has implemented biosecurity programs internationally through pilot programs or memorandums of understanding in 9 countries with continued expansion planned for the future.

Building an international biosecurity platform

Biosecurity is not just a public health challenge—it’s also a national security challenge. We must ask, How do we build global biosecurity infrastructure while aligning with global leaders concerning risk and data security?

“We are… our foreign partners, what does the global architecture look like for managing biotech risk but also promoting the vast potential of biotechnology? What values systems are we aligning with?” Frisk added. “This values conversation is very important, and one we really need to come together to understand what our values are.”

To learn more about building international biosecurity infrastructure, watch McKnight’s full platform presentation and the panel titled “Leadership in the DNA Age: Biosecurity and the Bioeconomy.”

If you are interested in learning more about how we are on the forefront of the emerging international biosecurity industry, please contact us!

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