- Collaborative Surveillance: Ginkgo Bioworks is partnering with Penn State University to integrate its biosurveillance capabilities, supporting research on 58 wildlife species for SARS-CoV-2 monitoring.
- Addressing Surveillance Gap: The research targets under-sampled species to offer data for more precise interventions against the spread of new SARS-CoV-2 variants.
- Potential Threats: The presence of SARS-CoV-2 in wildlife species could threaten human health and critical agricultural species.
- Holistic Biosecurity: The collaboration emphasizes the need for partnerships between government, academia, and industry to establish sustainable biosecurity infrastructures.
- Viral Persistence in Wildlife: Evidence suggests viral persistence in the wild, which could lead to new variants and challenges for diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines.
Ginkgo Bioworks, a leading force in cell programming and biosecurity, has partnered with Penn State University to boost the latter’s research on potential SARS-CoV-2 exposure in wildlife species. This initiative is made possible through a cooperative agreement awarded to Penn State by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
SARS-CoV-2’s presence in certain wild animal species, such as white-tailed deer, has been confirmed. However, many species remain under-sampled, potentially threatening human health and crucial agricultural sectors that underpin the global food supply.
This joint endeavor aims to fill the surveillance void, with Penn State benefiting from Ginkgo’s ‘Concentric’ biosurveillance research and analytics capabilities – tools previously utilized by governmental bodies to fortify biosecurity infrastructure.
Matt McKnight, General Manager for Biosecurity at Ginkgo Bioworks, expressed enthusiasm about the collaboration, emphasizing the importance of multi-sectoral partnerships in building resilient biosecurity infrastructures.
Penn State’s research will encompass various wildlife species, including eastern chipmunks, gray squirrels, raccoons, coyotes, and several species of bats, to name a few. The core goal is not merely to detect SARS-CoV-2 infection in these species but to discern which animals can act as transmission vectors, thereby maintaining the virus’s presence within wild populations. Such insights, the partners believe, will be invaluable for public health decision-making.
Highlighting the significance of the research, Kurt Vandegrift, an associate research professor of biology at Penn State, shared concerns about the virus’s continued circulation in U.S. wildlife. Evidence from deer in New York has unveiled the persistent circulation of specific variants, signaling potential risks of spillback to humans and the emergence of highly divergent variants.
Ginkgo Bioworks, through its Concentric biosecurity and public health unit, remains at the vanguard of cell programming, offering extensive services across multiple sectors, including food, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals. The company is pioneering global biosecurity solutions, equipping communities, governments, and public health entities to combat diverse biological threats better.
Image provided by Ginkgo Bioworks