BioBuilder launched their new Learning Lab @ Ginkgo Bioworks in early December – teaching some of Ginkgo's own digital technology professionals! Surprised? Read on...

The Maiden Voyage of the New BioBuilder Learning Lab @ Ginkgo

DT group photo

Twenty intrepid (and curious) digital pros signed up for this new BioBuilder workshop. For five days, BioBuilder’s founder and executive director, Dr. Natalie Kuldell, introduced them to some of the synthetic biology that is the basis of Ginkgo’s work.

These students came to this workshop extremely well-educated – all held a Bachelor’s degree and more than half held a graduate degree. Yet only a handful had more than a few high school or college intro biology classes under their belt. In fact, working at Ginkgo was the most biology exposure many of them had experienced.

It was no surprise, then, that the participants started the workshop with little confidence in their ability to conduct basic laboratory techniques, evaluate lab data or design projects. But they were in for a transformative experience in a workshop designed to level-up their skill, confidence, and outlook.

Learn – Do – Design – Repeat!

Dr. Kuldell modified BioBuilder’s core content to emphasize the fundamentals of molecular biology, cell biology, and gene expression (see sidebar for some more details). Each day alternated between time in the classroom and in the lab, providing interactive lectures and hands-on labs, along with a healthy dose of creative problem solving, data analysis, small group work, and biodesign.

DT in lab 3
DT in lab 2
DT in lab 4
DT in lab 1

Designing New Systems

On the last day of the workshop, all participants presented their biodesigns to the rest of the class – and a lively discussion ensued! Their designs included:

  • Cancer detection technology for smokers
  • A beer taste indicator for brewers
  • Self-healing roads
  • A patch to indicate when it’s time to reapply sunscreen
  • A renewable at-home COVID test

Before and After

The newly-trained biologists were asked about their post-workshop confidence in their ability to conduct several of the techniques they had learned. Their responses demonstrate the power of BioBuilder hands-on learning.

Their confidence in their ability to:

  • use a pipette went up to 99% agreeing from 82% disagreeing pre-workshop.
  • culture microbes went up to 83% agreeing from 94% disagreeing.
  • interpret experimental data went up to 82% agreeing from 83% disagreeing.
  • measure microbe growth went up to 75% agreeing from 88% disagreeing.
  • measure living system output went up to 50% agreeing from 94% disagreeing.
  • design a living system to address a real-world problem went up to 50% agreeing from 82% disagreeing.

Students gave great feedback and described some of their key takeaways from the workshop.

The workshop was such a success that Ginkgo and BioBuilder are planning to offer more sessions for other Ginkgo pros in 2022. Another example of the great partnership between BioBuilder and Ginkgo Bioworks!

Day 1 – Looking at cells as self-replicating machines

Day 2 – Modifying cells with engineered DNA

Day 3 – Interpreting data and planning experiments

Day 4 – Designing cells from top down and bottom up

Day 5 – Predicting the behavior of synthetic biological systems

LECTURES:

Covered topics such as microbial cell culture, gene expression, DNA sequence analysis, cell growth curves, genetic reporters, and more. The lectures were not just “sit and listen” style; they were interactive and used manipulatives to illustrate concepts being learned. For example, students used Legos® to reinforce how a DNA molecule is structured!

DNA legos

LABS:

Focused on and practiced fundamental techniques such as sterile cell culture, pipetting, and safe laboratory practices. They also conducted BioBuilder experiments including Eau That Smell, What a Colorful World, and iTunes Device, which put the student’s new skills into practice.

Each day also included time for teams to brainstorm biodesigns based on what they had been learning.

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