Christina Agapakis

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Christina Agapakis
Christina Agapakis - PopTech 2013 - Camden, ME.jpg
Native name
Christina Maria Agapakis
ResidenceBoston, MA
Alma materYale University, BS, 2006
Harvard University, PhD, 2011
Known forSynthetic Biology, BioArt
AwardsForbes 30 Under 30, L'Oreal USA Fellowship for Women in Science, Fast Company 100 Most Creative People in Business
Scientific career
FieldsSynthetic biology, Bioengineering
InstitutionsUniversity of California, Los Angeles
Ginkgo Bioworks
ThesisBiological Design Principles for Synthetic Biology (2011)
Doctoral advisorPamela Silver

Christina Agapakis is a synthetic biologist, science writer. She is the Creative Director of the biotechnology company Ginkgo Bioworks.

Education and early career[edit]

Agapakis received her Bachelor of Science degree in 2006 from Yale University in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology. She then attended Harvard University, where she received her PhD in biological and biomedical sciences under the mentorship of Pamela Silver.[1] Her thesis, entitled "Biological Design Principles for Synthetic Biology," centered on identifying and utilizing design principles for bioengineering, keeping in mind the evolutionary and ecological contexts under which genes and genetic pathways were being modified or newly synthesized. She worked to engineer photosynthetic bacteria to invade animal cells, essentially giving animals cells chloroplasts, and also engineered bacteria to produce hydrogen fuel.[2][3] Her thesis covers a range of work she pursued during her doctoral career, including mentoring a Harvard iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machines) competition team in 2010, which developed an open source toolkit for plant engineering known as the Harvard iGarden.[4][5] She also discussed a project called "Selfmade" at the intersection of science and art, which focused on the microbial ecology of cheese and the human body. She worked with artist and odor expert Sissel Tolaas during her Synthetic Aesthetics residency, collecting bacteria samples from the belly buttons, feet, mouths, and tears of creatives to engineer 11 "human cheeses."[6] The project was exhibited at the "Grow Your Own" exhibition at the Dublin Science Gallery and was meant more as a thought experiment than a culinary one.[7]

Following her PhD, Agapakis began a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, Los Angeles in the laboratory of Ann Hirsch between 2012 and 2014. While at UCLA, she was also a fellow in the Department of Design and Media Arts at the Art|Sci Center.[8]

Bioengineering & Bioart[edit]

Agapakis is now the Creative Director of the Boston-based biotechnology company Ginkgo Bioworks, known as "The Organism Company," which specializes in genetically engineering organisms like yeast and bacteria for a number of applications—from engineering perfumes and food to engineering solutions for more sustainable agriculture.[9][10] One project, for example, focuses on engineering yeast to produce a rose-like scent by modifying their genes to produce the molecules a rose makes to generate that scent.[11] The rose oil fragrance was licensed to the fragrance maker Robertet.[12] Agapakis has also been leading the company’s 100 Vial Project, which is engineering a library of bio-based scents. One of these scents is an effort to resurrect the smell of a long-extinct flower by analyzing preserved botanical samples to identify the DNA encoding smell-producing enzymes. They can then engineer yeast to produce those same enzymes and produce the molecules that create the extinct flower's scent.[13] The project is in collaboration with Agapakis's long-time collaborator Sissel Tolaas and Daisy Ginsberg.

In her role as Creative Director, Agapakis focuses on creating experiences and communicating stories about the bioengineering work the company undertakes with the ultimate goal of making biotechnology more approachable.[14] For instance, Ginkgo hosted designer Natsai Audrey Chieza as artist in residence to experiment with dying textiles with bacteria as an environmentally sound and resource-conservative approach alternative to commercial dyes.[15][16]

Science writing[edit]

Agapakis is also a science writer. She began blogging in graduate school and in 2011 started a column for Scientific American called the "Oscillator," sharing her thoughts on the latest developments in the field of synthetic biology for a popular audience.[17] Her posts covered a number of topics from sustainability to the intersection between art and science to the microbiology of body fluids.[18] She has also written for a variety of outlets, including highlighting the women who made microbiology possible for Popular Science and reviewing Sophia Roosth's book Snythetic: How life got made for New Scientist.[19][20] She also co-founded a four-edition print science magazine called Methods about how science works in practice with science writers Azeen Ghorayshi and Rose Eveleth.[21]

Awards & Honors[edit]

  • Forbes 30 Under 30, 2012[22]
  • L'Oreal USA Fellowship for Women in Science, 2012[23][24]
  • UdK Award for Interdisciplinary Art and Science, 2012
  • 100 Most Creative People in Business, Fast Company, 2016[10]
  • Next List 2017: 20 People Who Are Creating the Future, Wired, 2017[25]
  • Excellence in Public Engagement Award, SynBioBeta, 2018[26]


  1. ^ Agapakis, Christina (May 2011). "Biological design principles for synthetic biology - ProQuest". Retrieved 2018-12-21.
  2. ^ Silver, Pamela A.; Way, Jeffrey C.; Megason, Sean G.; Lieberman, Tami D.; Noche, Ramil R.; Niederholtmeyer, Henrike; Agapakis, Christina M. (2011-04-20). "Towards a Synthetic Chloroplast". PLOS ONE. 6 (4): e18877. Bibcode:2011PLoSO...618877A. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0018877. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 3080389. PMID 21533097.
  3. ^ Agapakis, Christina M.; Ducat, Daniel C.; Boyle, Patrick M.; Wintermute, Edwin H.; Way, Jeffrey C.; Silver, Pamela A. (2010-02-25). "Insulation of a synthetic hydrogen metabolism circuit in bacteria". Journal of Biological Engineering. 4 (1): 3. doi:10.1186/1754-1611-4-3. ISSN 1754-1611. PMC 2847965. PMID 20184755.
  4. ^ "Team:Harvard -". Retrieved 2018-12-21.
  5. ^ Boyle, Patrick M.; Burrill, Devin R.; Inniss, Mara C.; Agapakis, Christina M.; Deardon, Aaron; DeWerd, Jonathan G.; Gedeon, Michael A.; Quinn, Jacqueline Y.; Paull, Morgan L. (2012-12-01). "A BioBrick compatible strategy for genetic modification of plants". Journal of Biological Engineering. 6 (1): 8. doi:10.1186/1754-1611-6-8. ISSN 1754-1611. PMC 3537565. PMID 22716313.
  6. ^ ""Human Cheese" Only the First Course for Odd Cheeses". National Geographic News. 2013-12-04. Retrieved 2018-12-21.
  7. ^ Wainwright, Oliver (2013-10-28). "Grow Your Own: where scientists and artists are shaking up creation". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2018-12-21.
  8. ^ Madrigal, Alexis C. (2013-04-24). "The Hordes of Microbes Inside Your Body Are Your Friends". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2018-12-21.
  9. ^ "Ginkgo Bioworks, The Latest "Unicorn," Genetically Engineers Everything From Perfume To Food". BuzzFeed News. Retrieved 2018-12-21.
  10. ^ a b "Christina Agapakis, Most Creative People 2016". Fast Company. Retrieved 2018-12-21.
  11. ^ "Organism Designers at Ginkgo Bioworks are Designing Tasty Food Flavors". MOLD :: Designing the Future of Food. Retrieved 2018-12-21.
  12. ^ "Ginkgo Bioworks and Robertet to develop new fragrance ingredients". Retrieved 2018-12-22.
  13. ^ Agapakis, Christina; Lee, Suzanne (2018-09-19). "Design With Science". Journal of Design and Science.
  14. ^ Thayer, Katheryn. "This Scientist Explains Complex Biotech With Food, Art And Empathy". Forbes. Retrieved 2018-12-21.
  15. ^ "Artist Screen-Prints Fabrics With Bacteria". 2017-08-31. Retrieved 2018-12-22.
  16. ^ Zhang, Sarah (2018-02-12). "Can This Company Convince You to Love GMOs?". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2018-12-22.
  17. ^ Zivkovic, Bora. "Introducing #SciAmBlogs bloggers: Christina Agapakis". Scientific American Blog Network. Retrieved 2018-12-22.
  18. ^ "Oscillator". Scientific American Blog Network. Retrieved 2018-12-22.
  19. ^ "Ginkgo Bioworks and Robertet to develop new fragrance ingredients". Retrieved 2018-12-22.
  20. ^ Agapakis, Christina. "Synthetic biology's ties to our humanity let it elude definition". New Scientist. Retrieved 2018-12-22.
  21. ^ "Method | Science in the making". Retrieved 2018-12-22.
  22. ^ Herper, Matthew; Le, Vanna; Sharf, Samantha. "30 Under 30 - Science & Healthcare". Forbes. Retrieved 2018-12-21.
  23. ^ Braun, David Max (2012-09-15). "Researchers Examining Critical World Issues Receive L'Oréal Fellowships for Women in Science". National Geographic Society Newsroom. Retrieved 2018-12-21.
  24. ^ L'Oréal USA For Women In Science, Meet our 2012 L'Oréal USA For Women In Science Fellow, Dr. Christina Agapakis, retrieved 2018-12-21
  25. ^ Staff, Wired (2017-04-25). "Next List 2017: 20 Tech Visionaries You Should Have Heard of by Now". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved 2018-12-22.
  26. ^ Cumbers, John (2018-09-25). "The Fourth Annual Engineering Biology Awards Recognize Excellence in the Synthetic Biology Industry at SynBioBeta 2018". SynBioBeta. Retrieved 2018-12-21.