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Ginkgo Bioworks CEO Jason Kelly at the Milken Institute Global Conference in 2019. Photo: Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Boston-based synthetic biology leader Ginkgo Bioworks will go public via the SPAC company Soaring Eagle Acquisition.

Why it matters: The deal — one of the biggest yet in the SPAC space — values Ginkgo at an implied $15 billion, and will channel funding into CEO Jason Kelly's plans to turn the company into the Amazon Web Services (AWS) of synthetic biology.

  • A report released last year by McKinsey Global Institute projected bioengineered products could have a direct economic impact of as much as $4 trillion over the next 10 to 20 years.

What's happening: Ginkgo — which was founded by Kelly and a team of fellow MIT synthetic biology experts in 2008 — builds made-to-order microbes for companies in a range of industries, including fragrances and food ingredients.

  • It takes advantage of the growing ability of scientists to design and print DNA on demand — the field now known as synthetic biology.
  • Ginkgo — the first synbio unicorn — was most recently valued privately at $4.86 billion. The company has pivoted to the broader pharma industry, receiving a $1.1 billion loan in November from the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation to optimize COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing and expand testing efforts.

The big picture: Ginkgo increasingly sees itself as a "platform," Kelly tells Axios, charging customers for the use of its biological foundry "like AWS does for data center cycles."

  • Ginkgo also takes royalties or equity in the biological apps developed on its platform — "like the Apple App Store," says Kelly. With the money generated by the SPAC deal, "I want to create an ecosystem of services that sits around the much more technical platform."
  • Those include more lucrative areas like drug research and manufacture — Kelly estimates companies spend some $40 billion on biotech R&D work that could be supported and accelerated on Ginkgo's increasingly automated platform.
  • "It's like a software company migrating from individually-run servers to the cloud," says Kelly. "Now everyone just pays a bill to Amazon, and we think there's a similar big potential market for us" in biotech.

What's next: Kelly aims to expand the number of new biological programs customers develop on the Ginkgo platform from around 20 now to "500 plus" by 2025.

The bottom line: Ginkgo's SPAC deal is a bet on a future where coding biology will be as easy — and potentially as lucrative — as coding computers.

Go deeper: A coming bio revolution is poised to change the world

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
May 12, 2021 - Economy & Business

E-scooter company Bird will go public via SPAC

llustration:Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Electric scooter company Bird on Wednesday agreed to go public via a SPAC, at an implied value of around $2.3 billion.

Between the lines: This is a lower valuation than what Bird got in the private markets before the pandemic, but could help set it up to benefit from a rider rebound as cities reopen.

Updated 1 hour ago - Science

NTSB probes crash that killed 10 in Alabama as storm lashes Southeast

Flash-flooding in Bloomington, Indiana, on Saturday. Photo: Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The National Transportation Safety Board announced Sunday that it's investigating a fiery multi-vehicle weekend crash in Alabama that killed 10 people, including nine children, as storms swept the Southeast.

The big picture: Saturday's crash on Interstate 65, south of Montgomery, occurred amid a tropical depression that left 13 people dead in Alabama as it triggered flash floods and spawned tornadoes that razed "dozens of homes" over the weekend, per AP.

Laurel Hubbard to become 1st openly trans athlete to compete at Olympics

New Zealand's Laurel Hubbard at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia, when she became the first openly transgender athlete to represent NZ. Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

The New Zealand Olympic Committee has announced that Laurel Hubbard has been selected for the women's weightlifting team for the Tokyo Games — making her the first openly transgender athlete to compete at the event.

The big picture: Hubbard, 43, is part of a five-member Kiwi weightlifting team and will compete in the women's super heavyweight category. Meanwhile, BMX rider Chelsea Wolfe will become the first openly trans athlete to travel to the Olympics with Team USA, when she arrives in Tokyo as a reserve rider.