In this episode, we interview Dr. Christina Agapakis, the Creative Director at Ginkgo Bioworks. We talk to Dr. Agapakis about her career working at the intersection of art and science and about the importance of creativity in synthetic biology. Along the way, we talk about resurrecting the scent of extinct flowers, starting the magazine Grow by Gingko, and only a little bit of Jurassic Park.
For more information about EBRC, visit our website at ebrc.org. If you are interested in getting involved with the EBRC Student and Postdoc Association, fill out a membership application for graduate students and postdocs or for undergraduates and join today!
Episode transcripts are the unedited output from Whisper and likely contain errors.
Hello, and welcome to EBRC and Translation, a production of the Engineering Biology Research Consortium's Student and Postdoc Association. We are a group of graduate students and postdocs working to bring you conversations with members of the engineering biology community. Adam and I will be your hosts for this episode. My name is Fatemeh Nam, and I'm a postdoc at Stanford University in the lab of Justin Sonnenberg. And I'm Adam Silverman, a graduate student at Northwestern University in the labs of Mike Jewett and Julius Lux. And this episode, our guest is Dr. Christina Agapakis, the creative director at Ginkgo Bioworks. Welcome to our show. We're excited to have you with us today. Thank you so much. Yeah. We like to start off these interviews by just kind of asking our guests to introduce themselves. So why don't you tell us a little bit about your own personal journey, starting kind of your early research career and ending where you're at right now, the creative director at Ginkgo. Cool. So I'm a biologist by training, have been obsessed with biology for a very long time. I've actually I was spending a little time earlier today talking about Jurassic Park. And I really do think Jurassic Park made a big difference in my career. I think as a kid, when I saw the movie, I wanted to be a paleontologist. But it was a few years later that I realized that it's a movie about molecular biology and biotechnology, not about dinosaurs, actually. And I was hooked. And so I think I just like fell in love with biology and was obsessed with it forever and didn't really learn, didn't know synthetic biology existed until I started my PhD at Harvard and I met Pam Silver. And so at that point, I thought I was really interested in kind of chemistry and chemical biology, pharmacology, and was going to kind of go in that direction. But when I met Pam, all of a sudden, this kind of world opened up for me in terms of biology as technology, biology as something that could solve problems and solve problems that weren't just like the things that I was used to thinking of biology, like, oh, like medicine, pharma, like that's what biology can do. I was like, oh, wow, biology can do all of these other incredible things. And that was super inspiring to me. And I really was inspired so much by the mission of synthetic biology and what is now the mission of Ginkgo, like to make biology easier to engineer, to make it possible to do these kinds of things. I think how my sort of like research got shaped, though, was really in thinking about those problems and the problems that we were trying to solve. Like as synthetic biologists, I was working in biofuels, kind of thinking about these big problems in climate change and kind of like starting to recognize that making biology easier to engineer is not just a technical problem. It's actually also like a social and political problem. And in fact, most of the problems that we're trying to solve with synthetic biology are themselves not just technical problems, but also social and political problems at the same time. And that as a scientist, as a biologist, as someone who's like coming to this field trying, you know, obsessed with enzymes and DNA, like I didn't have the tools to like actually think about those problems. And so I spent a lot of my time as a graduate student being actually like a terrible scientist because I wasn't thinking about lab stuff. I was thinking about this other problem and this other side of things. And that's kind of like where I've landed, right? Like trying to kind of find like what is the way that we can bring it like bring those kinds of social questions and political questions like into the work that we're doing? How might that change the way that we approach technology and technology development? What questions should we be asking when we want to be able to solve these kinds of problems in the world? You know, I actually would love to get your opinion on something that you said. I think a lot of people would probably credit something like Jurassic Park to inspiring a love of molecular biology and you could probably also make the case that it has wrecked a lot of what the public thinks what synthetic biology is. How has your relationship with that kind of portrayal in popular culture changed over time? Yes, I think about this all the time because I think there's there are not that many like great like touchstone stories right that can inspire the way that film does about biotechnology. So like I think you've got Frankenstein, you've got Jurassic Park, like the deep cuts you maybe get Gattaca and that's it, right? And so like I want there to be like more like I need more of those like really compelling like and exciting like visions and like stories, right? And so I think like I think many scientists and I feel like I fell in this camp a long time ago where like this is not like that like scientists aren't like evil monsters like it like we do good things and boring things too, right? Like that's so boring. Like of course it's not as good as it makes for a movie like why would Steven Spielberg care if a dinosaur didn't eat anybody? Would you anybody watch that movie like oh and it was fine and Mike Spearmuth kind of didn't work and then I graduated with my PhD in the end, right? Like that sucks, right? So you got to get people hooked in. And I think like the other thing I think about about Jurassic Park in particular, too, which I think like again, it speaks to this kind of like social and technical piece that I think scientists miss, right? Like I think the villain in Jurassic Park is not really the is not science, it's capitalism. It's the people who are trying to like make a quick buck. It's the people pushing for the opening of the park before it's ready, like without the safety checks because they just need to get the revenue in. Like it's the people trying to sort of steal the dinosaurs to sell them or whatever, right? Like it's that that corrupting influence and that sort of the way that these like political, social, economic forces shape, like intersect with science and technology, like where the action happens, right? And where I think like we should also be like investing more of our attention. And so I think that there's many, many important things. I think, yeah, we could spend this whole hour talking about Jurassic Park. But I think I have my copy right here, too. Like I think you have you have life finds a way like, oh, my God, this is the best possible line. And so true. Right. And something that like we must remember as synthetic biologists, you also have like what what drives the narrative, which is like, yeah, these villains and that that sort of like that warning. So it's not the warning isn't like don't do science. I think the warning is like life finds a way and like capitalism is bad. That's probably like I think that's that's the lesson that you should take to think about like the GMO debate. It's a lesson to think about CRISPR. It's a lesson to think about like everything. And so I think it's great. And my views have certainly changed over time. But Jurassic Park has always been that that sort of like touchstone for me. I think, yeah, for molecular biologists and synthetic biologists, for sure, Jurassic Park played a role. I know after grad school, you did a postdoc at UCLA at the Art Center College of Designs. And I was wondering, is that where you got the artistic or creative spark in you? Like, maybe you want to talk about that a little bit. Sure. In graduate school, that question of this kind of like, where's the politics? I spent a lot of my time blogging because I didn't really have a lot of time. I didn't really have another like outlet or like place to think about it. And so so being able to spend time like reading other people's work and thinking and and like working through it with writing and kind of being able to sort of find people who are asking similar kinds of questions online, that was really valuable to me and a really important time in my life. And like in those moments in that time as I was kind of exploring these questions, I was finding how like a lot of people who are designers and artists were asking those kinds of questions and were asking them in in that kind of really compelling way, the same way that like Jurassic Park has like energy to it. It opens up a lot of questions. It gets people excited. Like it isn't it isn't just like, and everything was wonderful and peachy, right? Like there was a similar kind of like ambivalence and like questioning and like, yeah, like really captivating and visceral questions that I think artists could ask with questions with with things. So artists and designers like Daisy Ginsburg and her project Echromie from that was, gosh, it was like 2009. She worked with the the iGEM team at Cambridge University in UK and with her and James King, another designer, they imagined a world where you have a probiotic yogurt that's genetically engineered to produce different colored pigments in response to different kinds of bodily conditions. And so she had a suitcase full of little poops that she was walking around at iGEM like you do. But right, like it is so visceral and like gross and interesting. And you like have so many questions as soon as you see it, right? And she's really asking like, is this a future that we want to live in? And like, you know, how can we kind of imagine to gather a future that we want? And so that to me was something that like no scientists were doing. Or like if it was happening, it was happening on the edges, right? So like, you know, there were there were folks at Sydenberg, what became UBRC, right? Like who were asking some of these questions. It was there. But like, we didn't know how to kind of like fully integrate it. And I think it's been like there's been many years now where it's getting kind of closer and closer and it's more fundamental to like, yeah, the social part of making biology easier to engineer and asking like, to what end are we making biology easier to engineer? What is that world that we want to engineer together? Those things are coming much more centrally into the discipline, which is really powerful, right? So yeah, well, that's that was all for me, a way to meet industries, like why I do art projects. But so it was Daisy and that kind of stuff. And then the synthetic aesthetics project, which started with Drew Endy and Jane Calvert and Alistair Effleck. They had got this research grant from NSF to bring together artists and scientists. And so I was like, so excited about this. And I applied and I was like, yeah, so lucky to be selected as one of the fellows and lucky to have a PI that let me do it in my fourth and fifth year of graduate school and spend a month doing an art project and put that in my dissertation to think about what is this kind of world that we could do together? What questions should we be asking? How can that be part of the way that we do synthetic biology? So I started in graduate school and then wanted to kind of find a place to do that or make that part of my career, but I didn't know what to do. So I was like, I guess I'll just do a postdoc and keep trying to do projects like this. And so I tricked a PI into thinking that I could do both. I couldn't really. So I spent a lot of my time teaching at the UCLA Art Science Center and at Art Center College of Design while kind of doing a half-assed job at the lab. That's awesome. How did you get to Ginkgo then? Like I said, I was a terrible postdoc because I actually wanted to do all these other things. And so I ended up sort of, yeah, there were sort of like life circumstances, like funding circumstances, like things I was like, okay, postdoc's over. I'm going to go, like I didn't have a job. So I was like, I'm going to make up my job. I'm going to make up with the job that I want. I'm going to pretend that I own a company, a consulting business called Icosahedron Labs, which I was doing with Patrick Boyle, who's at Ginkgo, but was a colleague of mine during our PhDs. And we were sort of going to consult on these kinds of questions of like design and communication and like kind of, yeah, media, politics, something. This weird space that doesn't quite exist as a job. I'm going to be, I'm a consultant, hire me. And then that's how I found Ginkgo. And that was, I kind of like reconnected with the folks at Ginkgo, which we were all friends from the Simberg days. And yeah, it was sort of got to be in the right place at the right time and sort of be able to build out this kind of a space for these kinds of questions. And this kind of, yeah, this work on storytelling, on creativity, on like where it meets politics and people and how to tell that story for Ginkgo. A very fascinating career trajectory. For sure. Like we always wondered like, where did this creative director post come up? And it looks like you built it. Oh, so I stole the title from Suzanne Lee. So Suzanne was the first creative director I ever saw in a biotech company. She was working at Modern Meadow at the time. That was her title there. And so she was maybe more like properly a creative director. She was really thinking about the brand and the product and the design of the product and its kind of translation into the market. And I mean, she's just brilliant and had done so much and really inspired me. And I liked the way that you could kind of like bridge the work of kind of creativity, design and brand and make it kind of part of the way that a business would be running too. And so I thought that was the title. That's how it came to that. Now, that makes me wonder what exactly you do on a typical day. So what is it like for Christina? Every day is different. Well, every day is different and every day is the same. Because I think at one level, every day is a lot of Zoom and a lot of emails. But the kinds of things that I'm doing are very different day to day. So I do a lot of work with media and PR and thinking about how to best tell our story and how to kind of reach people and make our story most compelling. So on any day, I might be talking to our PR team or to reporters or kind of building a strategy around that. I also work a lot with our creative team, so the proper creative team, thinking about our brand, our message, our website. How do we build that? How do we tell technical stories in a way that makes sense to all of these different stakeholders that we have? So to folks like you that I might be trying to recruit to come and work at Ginkgo, to customers, to our investors, to the media, to the sort of interested general public who's like, are these people making dinosaurs? I need to be able to speak to all of those people through these different kinds of channels. So yeah, we're thinking a lot about the different ways that we can reach people and the different kinds of moments or objects or stories to tell at any moment. And then I'm also often working closely with our business team thinking about how do we tell that story to our customers? Are these the kind of creative next step? How should we kind of be shaping that together? I also think a lot about political side too. What are the policymakers thinking? How are they kind of making sense of synthetic biology, the future impact of the bioeconomy? How can we kind of best advance that kind of effort? So yeah, on any moment, like any different Zoom meeting, there's usually kind of thinking about a particular audience, a different kind of set of people internal to the company that are kind of targeting that audience for something and want to have a communication. And then what are the kind of actions that we can do to meet those people and talk to them? It sounds like an intimidating number of hats to have to wear on any given day, right? There's a lot of context switching, right? Yeah, you have to be able to sort of be like, go from one meeting to the next and be like, all right, now I'm a manager. All right, now I'm a spokesperson. All right, like now I need to be creative. And so I think, yeah, it's something actually like I miss a lot from graduate school. It's just like the open time to think, right? I think graduate school is like a busy time, and it can be very, very stressful. And I had a very good and very supportive lab environment, but like there's no other time in your life, I think, that the whole thing is like find and ask new questions. All day long, like just learn and find a new question to ask. That's a really, really, really great thing to have. It's a really nice. I'm really, really glad that I had that time in my life to be able to do that. And you'd go back and do, no, I'm kidding. I don't think I need to do it again, but it is really hard to do it in 20-minute Zooms. I wanted to ask about just a couple of the particular projects that you're working on. One of them is The Grow, so Ginkgo's magazine, which kind of covers the story of synthetic biology and a bunch of different thought pieces, all related to some flavor of engineering biology. So I'm curious, I know a few of my colleagues read Grow. We think it's really interesting as sort of educated synthetic biologists working as graduate students. What is kind of your target audience for this? And what is your overall goal? So Grow is our magazine. And Grow is like a playground, I think, for us a little bit for these kinds of ideas and things that don't otherwise necessarily have a home in the context of a biotech company. But we think our stories that need to be told and stories that shape our company's culture impact our ecosystem. And we hope we'll push the conversation about what synthetic biology could be. And I think, yeah, again, that question of what is the story we want to tell to who through what kind of action. Having a physical object that you can touch and hold and flip through, there's something really powerful, I think, in that. And so we spend a lot of time. And that's like, actually, this afternoon I have a meeting I'm so excited about, or we're going to walk through the table of contents for the next issue that's coming. So I'm going to keep that one a secret, though. But that is, to me, very exciting to be able to put these kinds of thoughts and threads of things that matter to us into this physical object and into this moment in time where we can say, all right, we're launching this thing. Grab it, take it, and go. We did it for the first time to coincide with our annual meeting, which we call Ferment. And so really, the audience in that case was the people who are part of our community, the people who come to this meeting. So who's going to come to a ginkgo party? Well, it's going to be a bunch of nerds. It's all the synthetic biologists. It's folks in our community. It's our whole team and their friends and partners. It's our customers. It's our investors. It's the folks that really are rooting for us and are excited about it. That's who the first audience is. But then the goal, I think, is to expand who that could entail. Who else could be in that circle for us? Who might we hook with a really beautiful magazine that's going to learn something and get excited and be curious to learn more about synthetic biology and what it could be? Can we expand our circle of friends? And so that's part of the strategy behind Grow. And so it's interesting. Yeah, I think it's interesting. I don't actually know how to tell the story. But after we decided to do it and named it Grow, we learned. And I think, actually, after the first issue was finished and published, we learned that IBM had a magazine called Think that had a very similar message and mission. IBM had to teach people what computers could be. They had to create in people's minds this idea of machines that think. And so they had Think as a magazine. And they had these really cool thinkers contributing and writing pieces about helping people imagine what computers could be in the future. And I think we similarly have a challenge as synthetic biologists to say, OK, imagine machines that grow. What could that be? What's that going to look like in the future? So we want to create a magazine called Grow to do that same thing. And so, yeah, we didn't know that Think existed as a magazine. But I think it's interesting that we kind of mirrored. We ended up mirroring that kind of a strategy or approach. It's a beautiful analogy, for sure. Yeah, I love that we have a magazine that talks about far-out visions of the biological future. Definitely a magazine for biofuturists. Yeah. OK, check it out. Grow by ginkgo.com. Yes, let's do it out there. Definitely check it out. Point number one. Put in the show notes. So one of the other projects that the team has worked on is resurrecting the smell of an extinct flower, which is appropriate. I mean, given Ginkgo Bioworks is actually named after an ancient tree, a living fossil. So what questions were you interested in asking with this work? So one of them was definitely, can we do Jurassic Park? You can only answer that for three questions. So that's two, so far. So it was there, for sure, as an undercurrent. I think the question was really like, it's a similar kind of idea to Grow. And I think to a lot of the work of those designers who were sort of asking questions and opening up this kind of interesting discussion with something kind of compelling and artistic and beautiful and really story-driven, right? I think synthetic biology, the industry, I mean, especially like, yeah, six years ago when we, gosh, seven years ago when we started talking about that project was like, oh, you're going to make drop-in replacements for the chemicals industry. So like, we were like a supplier to the supplier to the supplier. We were like way, way kind of like far on this ingredient supply chain and very far from, I think, like the creative part of kinds of products that are part of everyday life. And so I'm definitely moved or like excited about this future of like, yeah, what if we could grow these products? What is the future of synthetic biology? What does it enable in terms of sustainability, in terms of like new performance? But the technology was always like hidden behind so many layers and sort of like deliberately so by this big industry that kind of didn't know what to do with synthetic biology. And so I think we wanted to kind of just like jump ahead of that or like just outside of that and tell a story of like synthetic biology can be the story driver. What if it's like kind of creative force instead of just like a manufacturing force? And why not both, right? Like can it kind of tell both stories? And then at the same time, there's so many like rich stories to be telling when it comes to like extinction and conservation and like these organisms went extinct because people colonized other countries and like came more like, all right, it's now it's our ecology now. See ya. And it sucks, right? And it's like that's a particular way of kind of thinking about nature and humans place in it that is like alt and colonial, but like is replicated. And we are at risk of replicating it again in synthetic biology. And so like, can we through this kind of project expose that or ask the question of like, what if, what does the future look like that's different, right? Can we not have that same kind of like exploiting or like, can we have a different relationship to nature? And what might that be? I don't think that the project did that. I wanted, but I wanted to ask the question at least or like have that as a kind of theme throughout. So that's a piece of it. And then clearly it ballooned. It became a lot of different things, right? But so I think it really did start as like, where does synthetic biology come to the forefront of a story? Can we do Jurassic Park? And like, how else can an art project help us like ask those questions about this like political and philosophical dimensions of nature and synthetic biology and technology and the past and future? You ended on a great note for something that we had said. I'm curious what you think next 10, 15 years, what synthetic biology really holds and what could be done. And then also, you know, maybe answering that question, both from your perspective as a scientist and then also as an artist, right? What new questions could synthetic biology be asking? Ooh. Maybe that's in the context of everything that's going on in the world right now, too. There's a lot of things going on in the world. I think it's so hard to answer the questions like that. So I'll just like start that as a preface, right? Like, sure. Like, I think everyone is wrong. Like, I think you can start like, maybe you can do five years from now. I don't know, like 10 years is like far enough away that like, I think everyone is wrong. So like, I will be wrong and that's okay. I can tell you things I hope for, right? And I think that has changed in the past year. I hope that our ambitions are smaller because they're bigger, right? Okay, so like, stay with me, right? So, okay, there's a book that just came out this year called Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson. And there's this one line that stuck with me about how enough is a human right. And it is possible for everyone to have enough, but we don't do it that way, right? So I think what I want is that sort of smaller ambitions, right? Like enough. I want enough. Because that's actually very big and very hard to do. And so I think, you know, like folks like, well, Randy at iGEM, at the end of iGEM every year during the award ceremony, like every year he talks about how like, oh, all of you kids, like you're going to go off and become like the rich and famous people. And when you are flying on your golden jets, like make sure to invite me to the party or something, right? Like he always talks about the golden jets. And I think, yeah, maybe that's like 15 years old or 10 years old now, like vision of like synthetic biology, like we're just going to be the next Silicon Valley. We're going to be the rich people. It's going to be great. We're going to like, you know, we're going to remake the world the way that computers remade the world and it's going to be awesome. But it isn't enough for everyone, though, necessarily. And it is very, very, very possible for that to like be as unequal and as shitty as like how Silicon Valley has kind of turned out and how people are sort of like realizing this year. So like my hope is that synthetic biology is more about this like question of enough. Like, can you have like air that is breathable for everyone? Like, can we like, can my children go to school safely? Because we don't have to worry about infectious diseases as much. And can that be true for everyone around the world? Can we have a future like where we have like enough like good food for everybody, which is not just a technical problem? And how can these things like the technical and the political and the social like work together to like create that better future? So like in my wildest dreams, like, yeah, in 15 years, like we figured it out. Like, we figured it out. I don't I don't know. I don't know if I am I'm I'm feeling optimistic these days because everyone's people are trying to get vaccinated, but I don't know if I'm that optimistic. And then as a scientist, things like I mean, I'm like, oh, yeah, we should have no more infectious diseases. We should have like really great like surveillance, you know, disease surveillance and rapid response vaccines like done. I also get really excited about like the microbiome and like how that's going to change agriculture and health and like what could look what that could look like in 15 years, like my wildest dreams. And then, yeah, like all of manufacturing. What if we really changed everything and we could make everything with biology? To me, that doesn't really none of that matters if we don't solve the like social piece and the equality piece. That's a really great answer, especially in the context of, you know, evolution not really being pro equity, I think, right? Like it invites those questions to it, right? What do you mean? Well, natural selection is all about, right? The one bug that survives the best is going to wind up dominating. I think that's culturally influenced. I think our belief in what evolution is has to do with more with capitalism than it does with reality. Can you go on? That's an interesting train of thought. So I think it's not actually true that it's always one thing, right? Like, I mean, maybe you can set up situations where that's true, right? Like, OK, the one E. coli that's resistant, that evolves resistance is obviously going to take over the whole culture. But that's like not what real life ever almost ever looks like. And certainly at the level of like people, right? Like social interactions and like group interactions and like even our own bodies as like amalgamations of many, many, many bacteria and humans and viruses, human cells and whatever, right? Like, it's not just a single thing beating out everyone else. There is something that's actually quite different or dynamic. And it's hard for us, I think, to conceptualize that or talk about it because our ideas about biology and evolution are shaped by the ways that we think about culture and society. And so I think like, yeah, like Darwin was around in the whatever, 18 somethings. And like, yeah, social Darwinism kind of popped up around it was like, oh, yes, great. Like, it is true that white men are the best. We are clearly the naturally superior ones because look at us. And so like, I think it's too easy to kind of like ascribe these like social relations and like kind of like social things like on to biology. You need to kind of look at it like you turn your head one direction one way and be like, oh, well, like, what if it what if we were communists when we invented when we discovered when we discovered evolution? Like, would we think something different would would would our like so like our vernacular kind of ideas about evolution and survival of the fittest and that concept at all look a little bit different because we would like we would value the collective and the strength of the collective over the individual more. And so anyway, those are sort of like interesting questions and like a whole there's a whole like literature there, which has definitely obviously inspired me a lot. That's, I think, an important part of like the kind of storytelling I want to do in grow to like, can we just look at it differently? And would we change our idea of what science could be? And what might that look like in the future? Cool. Along those lines, just thinking about Ginkgo's like as a company, its greater mission. How do you feel what you do really contributes to the company as a whole? I think it is true that as a company, right? Like when you're actually trying to do this, when you're trying to make biology easier to engineer, like you bump into the people stuff, right? Like and even like the right like EBRC, right? The existence of an organization to like bring people together and think about it and like move forward with standards and roadmaps and approaches like those are all like contested, right? And like by people. And there's so much about that that has to is necessary to advance the technology. So I would challenge you to say like, you're doing that the same thing. Like doing this podcast, like is it's the same kind of work that I think is like a necessary part of any kind of technology development. And so that's what I sort of do now full time as my job. But I think it's a thing that we all must do. I think, well, okay, maybe this is a little story to kind of like illustrate the point. I remember like spending a lot of time making figures when I was a grad student and like being really interested in like, yeah, the kind of display of data and information and kind of like doing that kind of work. And I would get people like mad at me. Like people, scientists would be like, clearly you're not a good scientist if you're spending so much time on like this data visualization piece or like design because the data should speak for itself. And I'm like, have you ever like has Excel ever talked to you? Like, no, like people talk, right? Like you have to write a paper. Like we even say that as scientists, right? Like, oh, my story. I have my story ready. I can write my manuscript, right? Like that's how we, it's all communication and it's all sort of like filtered through our own perspectives. And I think scientists like do kind of like intuitively understand or kind of talk about it like interpersonally. But then we sort of like project out this idea, this idea. The data speaks for itself. Like we're not here. We write in the passive voice to pretend that we don't exist, to make the science like be this thing on its own. Anyway, so I don't know how I got here, but I think anyway, I'll just say like we are all speaking for science all the time. Like you must like there is no way that science happens without us speaking for it. And just being really conscious about that speaking and how we're doing and who we're bringing into that conversation is essential no matter what. That's what I think. We don't have too much more time left. I want to end with a fun question, at least on my end, which is fun. These have all been fun. Okay. And I'm going to preface this that you cannot answer this with Jurassic Park. So you worked on a project to culture cheese using the bacteria living on your body. So the question is, what did that taste like? It's true. I can't answer this one with Jurassic Park. It tastes like cheese. It's just regular cheese, which is that's part of it, right? And so maybe to sort of tie it to the last thing, right? I think we bring a lot of cultural and emotional baggage to everything, especially food, right? Food is so like personal and visceral and it is so tied to our cultural upbringing, our like every day, our bodies, right? It's so tied to us. Obviously, like your foot bacteria is also like visceral and tied to you. And you don't think about it the same as much and are in the same way. That was the project that I did for synthetic aesthetics. And so I got partnered up with Cecil Tulas, who's an odor artist. I was so scared and terrified. She joins. She comes to the lab and she's like this amazing, brilliant artist. And she's like smelling everything. And I'm like, I don't know what we're going to do together. Like, I'm just this nerd. Like I'm a graduate student. What am I going to do? And we started like researching together the smell of body odor because she did a lot of project. She had done a lot of work on body odor. I was like, okay, well, that's I can do the science of body odor. Let's look at that up. And then all of the molecules we were finding and all the bacterial species that produce those molecules, when you kind of like it was kind of like a Google translate loop. Like I put those molecules like back into Google and what comes up at the top is cheese. And I was like, oh my God, like we're just cheese. And in fact, we are. Right. So I ended up like, you know, we made cheese out of my friend Ben Wolf, who's a cheese microbiologist. And he's like, oh, yeah, feet are just like 20x concentrated cheese. Or maybe it's the other way around. Yeah, cheese is 20x concentrated feet. It's like the same species of fungus, like the same kind of communities. They eat the oils from your skin and they produce these smelly molecules. And that's why cheese smells like feet or some cheeses do. Right. And so that was so interesting. Right. And because it was so like gross and at the same time, like so like personal. And what I liked about it, too, is sort of this idea that, you know, as synthetic biologists were saying like, oh, in the future, we're going to domesticate bacteria. Bacteria are going to be kind of part of our like every day in a different kind of way. But we didn't really like deal with what that would look like or feel like. Right. Because I think all the imagery of synthetic biology to that point had been like steel tanks and like circuit boards and stuff like that. Right. Like, but bacteria smell. Right. And they smell like feet in there and cheese. And it's gross. But it's but they're that's still it's also very like compelling and interesting. And anyway, and cheese makers do these incredible feats of microbiology every day. I sort of like staging like which bacteria grow when to create the product that is safe and delicious and delightful. So we made our own cheese with our feet, bacteria and like armpit bacteria and all sorts of body parts, because as an object, again, like I think it's it's sort of it's a gimmick, but it's also a question like, well, would you eat it? Like, what does it feel like? Why and why is it gross? And like, why do we think about like biotechnology as things in tanks and steel and and cold and sterile and smellless? And why you think about cheese making and like artisanal craftsmanship of food in a very different way and put value on them in different ways? Like, what happens if you kind of like mix that or or again, like, look at it from a slightly different perspective? So those are the questions we wanted to ask this art project. And so I did I did taste some but only the ones from that I made with my own bacteria, because I didn't want to eat other people's bacteria. But yeah, it just tastes fine. Yeah. So one of the other unique initiatives that you have brought to Ginkgo is the Creative Residency Program, which you manage. And maybe if you could tell us a little bit about how the program works and maybe some of the projects that came out of it. Sure. We we create that with Natsai Chiesa and her group Faber Futures. So she's a designer and she was our first resident. And it sort of popped up in conversation with her like, oh, wouldn't it be really amazing if you could bring artists into the space to sort of like learn and be immersed in the way that Ginkgo thinks about synthetic biology and use that as a jumping off point for kind of creative work the same way that bringing artists and scientists together kind of was that cheese project, the synthetic aesthetics project. Like, what might happen? You know, what's possible? And we just did it. So I was like, OK, the same way I was like, OK, I'm going to make cheese. So I was like, Natsai, come join. Come over. Like, you're going to be our first resident. Let's figure it out together. And so, yeah, she spent a few months with us and helped us kind of figure that out. Like, what are the resources that a creative person needs to learn from scientists? What is the vice versa, like the translation? Like, what do Ginkgo's engineers need to understand in order to like, yeah, be asking the scientists, the artists, like the right questions or to be learning from them or and help support them best. So there's a kind of like cultural translation that I think is really important from both on both sides of that equation. What are the sort of like, yeah, we have to like negotiate the IP agreement of like who yeah, like for artists, like their copyright, their IP is really important to them, right? Like, how can we make sure that that's something that's going to be like fair and appropriate for an artist? So like we kind of figure that all out with Natsai and have been kind of continuing to curate it. But Natsai's work is really great because she's a textile designer and really kind of like interested in the kind of craft of textile design and new materials and material futures. And she learned microbiology. She like taught herself microbiology as like a craft practice. She like had space open her lab, but she didn't learn as a scientist. She learned as a craftsperson, like wanting to dye fabrics with bacteria that produce these pigments. And so she like learned how to culture these bacteria. She learned how pH changed the color. She learned how the different conditions like altered the way that the bacteria behave, like all through this kind of like craft trial and error process. And then at Ginkgo, she kind of brought that to Ginkgo and then tried to work with us to scale it up. Like, can I do that now with a, if I had a much bigger autoclave, like a much bigger petri dish, like what could I do? Like how, what could I do if you could start genetically engineering those strains to behave differently? Like what are the kinds of like new conditions or kinds of crafts or prints that you could kind of create? And so she had that space and those tools and the ways of thinking like Ginkgo engineers, which is about sort of like scale and like different kinds of processes and different kinds of things in her sort of like lab craft scale. And that kind of like, yeah, it influenced some of the ways that she was thinking. And her thinking definitely influenced a lot of us kind of thinking like, oh, like maybe like commodity scale dyes like isn't as interesting or like isn't unique to biology the way that one off like uniqueness and variability is like, what is something fundamental to biology, right? Or like, yeah, are we thinking about scale all wrong when we're thinking about like what biotechnology can do in industry? I mean, so Nath is amazing. She continues to work with us and curate our residency. We had other residents like Yasmin Sherry, who was interested in biosensors, kind of exploring this kind of sensing apparatus and how that might translate into different kinds of technologies and different kinds of scales. Andrea Ling is an architect and sculptor, and she was really interested in working with biomaterials and decay and how things might grow and decay at like architectural scales. And she did some really, really nice experiments and artwork there. And then our last residents, it's been hard actually being virtual. And so our last residents are Monica Sifrid and Cyrus Clark. And they started with this question of can we listen to or can we spark moments of interspecies gossip and how like now with us sort of like trapped in our homes, like what does it look like to sort of commune and communicate with the microbes around us? And can we kind of tap in and listen to the rumors happening in between interactions of these organisms all around us? And so that's been sort of a fun project. That's just kind of coming to life right now. Really cool. Yeah, like Ginkgo is like a melting pot of like engineers, biologists, scientists, but now you spice it up with art, design, culture. I think that's fantastic. Yeah. And like marketing people and like finance people, like and facilities people. Like it's such an interesting kind of group of people who are all kind of, yeah, like working together to make this thing possible, right? And then they're all, they're all, yeah, everybody has this interesting kind of part of the ecosystem. Okay, well, I think we're pretty much out of time. I just want to give you, you know, one quick minute if there's anything you would like to pitch or plug for our synthetic biology audiences right here. Read Grow by Ginkgo. Yeah, check it out. Get your copy today. It's great. Yeah, I really do. And I really do want to have that conversation with everybody. So yeah, to everyone listening, like, yeah, well, let's talk about what synthetic biology should be. What if we could grow everything? That's the question we ask of Grow. Well, thank you so much. And on behalf of myself and Fatima, thanks to our guest, Dr. Acapakis, for joining us on the podcast today. It was a real pleasure and a lot of fun to talk to you. This has been another episode of EBRC in Translation, a production of the Engineering Biology Research Consortium's Student and Postdoc Association. For more information about the EBRC, you can visit our website at ebrc.org. If you're interested in becoming a member of the EBRC Student and Postdoc Association, you should. And you can find our membership application on our website. And a big thank you to the entire EBRC SPA podcast team. That's Catherine Brank, Fatima Anam, Andrew Hunt, Adam Silverman, and Kevin Reid. This episode was edited by Kevin Reid. Thanks also to EBRC for their support and you to our listeners for tuning in. We look forward to sharing our next episode with you soon.