We’re continuing our blog series, looking at the DNA of Codex DNA — our incredible employees and their stories.
Team member: John Gill, Senior Director of Research and Development
Came aboard: April 2020
What do you do at Codex DNA?
I lead our team that works on building DNA from the bottom up to produce gene-sized fragments. We’ve developed the SOLA (enzymatic DNA synthesis) workflow, an enzymatic DNA synthesis approach leveraging a library of small building blocks to construct DNA oligos used to make larger DNA fragments.
How did you get into that kind of work?
When I finished grad school, I worked at The Institute for Genomics Research (TIGR), where some of the first genomes were originally sequenced. During my time there, I noticed automation and high-throughput technologies were becoming very important to biology. Although I was trained as a molecular biologist, I found it very interesting that you could use automation to scale up biology. I found it fascinating that you could merge both automation and biology to draw conclusions faster than ever before. Then in 2011, I started working with Dan Gibson, focusing on writing DNA instead of only reading it. From there, we’ve constructed a whole minimal genome, developed the BioXp™ system and the digital-to-biologic-converter. It’s been an amazing journey and I feel extremely lucky to be a part of such exciting work!
How would you describe the company culture?
The company culture is very innovative and focused. I like the culture here at Codex DNA, and I genuinely enjoy working with the team and everyone throughout the company. Everyone is focused and engaged in the work we are doing with our products. It makes a huge difference when you enjoy the people you work with on your team. It makes you want to give 110%. People are open to new ideas and different ways of doing things, and that is essential for a cutting-edge discipline like synthetic biology.
How would you describe synthetic biology to non-scientists?
To me, it’s the building of DNA molecules that may not exist in nature to try to do new things. You can use synthetic biology for pharmaceuticals, agriculture, and even building whole genomes that don’t exist in nature to try to understand what a modified genome could do. Simply put, it’s a way to do things to biology that haven’t been done before by building or editing biological systems, and it’s only limited to the human imagination.
What’s something fun about working at Codex DNA?
The social gatherings our People + Culture team plan are great, and Halloween is amazing here. It’s always great to meet with colleagues for a happy hour outside of work hours. The day-to-day is fun since our labs are very active. I enjoy the culture in the lab and talking to people about the work they are doing and seeing their excitement about their work.
What was the first thing you ever wanted to be when you grew up?
I wanted to own a bike shop. However, I realized that it would be more challenging than I thought! I was always interested in biology and medicine as a kid. In college, I knew I eventually wanted to do something in medicine, something related to progressing human health. For me, that turned out to be reading and writing DNA.
How do you see synthetic biology changing the world?
I am most excited about the potential of the digital-to-biological-converter and the impact that building DNA on demand could have on many challenges we face today. Helping researchers and clinicians write DNA at will, without waiting weeks. The digital-to-biological-converter will not only impact synthetic biology, but it could revolutionize fields like medicine, agriculture, and potentially our climate challenges.