Out on an old Navy dry dock, a biotech company called Ginkgo Bioworks is growing genetically modified organisms by the billions, and it would very much like to tell you about them.
“I think people should love GMOs,” Gingko’s CEO and cofounder, Jason Kelly, told me. “We’re super proud of them.”
It helps the message, perhaps, that Ginkgo is not a big ag corporation shrouded in secrecy, but a small company founded by a band of exuberant nerds from MIT. Ginkgo reprograms single-celled organisms like yeast and bacteria into mini factories churning out useful molecules for food, perfumes, and industrial applications. For fun, its scientists also brew beer with their genetically modified yeast.
Kelly and many other biotech entrepreneurs I’ve spoken to take their lessons from the backlash to Monsanto. Monsanto’s mistake, in their telling, was focusing on genetic modifications that benefited farmers applying pesticides and herbicides but which seemed confusing to the average mom or dad at the grocery store. That made it easy for activists to tap into people’s fear of big corporations doing nefarious things. But what if you only made GMOs that were fun, cool, and socially conscious—like vegetarian burgers or cow-free leather or spider-silk ties?
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