A synthetic biology company is using its expertise to help the Madison Elementary School District test students for COVID-19.

Ginkgo Bioworks has partnered with laboratories around the country to assist school districts in providing testing for the virus in their classrooms. The company, which has its headquarters in Boston, Mass., also helped Moderna with process optimization so Moderna could manufacture its COVID-19 vaccine.

The Madison district provides batch testing once a week on its campuses to students and employees who choose to participate. It stopped testing for the month of April temporarily to minimize distractions because students were taking state exams. Samples from the Madison district are sent to Sonora Quest Laboratories.

Students use swabs to collect samples from inside their noses, then a teacher or other adult puts all the samples from one class in a collection site, said Scott Robertson, commercial development director and manager for Arizona for Ginkgo Bioworks. The samples are sent to a local laboratory, where experts can determine if anyone in that classroom has COVID-19.  Robertson said in a typical classroom of 25 second-graders, the process to collect samples takes about 10 minutes on average.

He said Madison Elementary School District Superintendent Kenneth Baca has been “a great partner” with Ginkgo Bioworks.

“We’ve had a really warm, good relationship with Madison,” Robertson said. “They seem to be enjoying the program. We know that a significant portion of people who are carrying the virus don’t have any symptoms. We know that to be especially true in younger age cohorts. One of the most powerful parts about testing in schools is that we turn the schools themselves into a community health hub.”

Students and employees in the Madison district have been eager to take part in the testing, officials said. The tests allow students and staff members to know if they can safely come to classrooms.

To learn more about the Madison Elementary School District and its COVID-19 safety measures, visit www.madisonaz.org. For more information about Ginkgo Bioworks, visit www.ginkgobioworks.com.



  • Colleen Sparks

    A 25-year industry veteran, she's written for a variety of outlets including The Arizona Republic, East Valley Tribune, Money Talks News, and North Central News.

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