Ginkgo Bioworks and XWELL Inc. are expanding their work with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) Traveler-based Genomic Surveillance program (TGS) to test for more than 30 additional priority pathogens, in addition to SARS-CoV-2. TGS consists of three complementary approaches of sample collection from arriving international travelers at U.S. airports, including voluntary nasal swabbing, aircraft wastewater, and airport wastewater sampling to enhance early detection of new SARS-CoV-2 variants and other pathogens, and fills gaps in global surveillance.
Concentric by Ginkgo, the biosecurity and public health unit of Ginkgo Bioworks, and XpresCheck by XWELL, are partnering to expand their work with the CDC to monitor more than 30 new viruses, bacteria, and antimicrobial resistance targets including several seasonal respiratory pathogens, such as influenza A and B, RSV, and SARS-CoV-2. The partners continue to help the CDC grow TGS’s capabilities to detect pathogens as early as possible, allowing for the best public health response.
The program expansion will launch at four of the program’s seven major international airports (New York, JFK, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington DC, Dulles).
The TGS program has proven to be an agile and beneficial asset to public health officials in the United States — quickly adapting to an evolving pandemic in real time since it launched in 2021. As of October 2023, TGS has enlisted over 370,000 travelers and maintains an ongoing enrollment of around 6,000 volunteer travelers weekly. The program covers travelers from more than 135 countries from all World Health Organization regions. Since its inception, the program has sequenced more than 14,000 samples, and made the genomic data available on several public health platforms to enable further analysis. The expansion will enable the program’s ability to monitor and change focus as needed to identify priority pathogens. TGS can augment global surveillance systems, especially as testing and sequencing information become limited.
“By building sustainable, scalable infrastructure that is capable of detecting biological threats beyond SARS-CoV-2, the TGS program is a global leader in the evolution of biosecurity,” said Matt McKnight, General Manager for Biosecurity at Ginkgo Bioworks. “Persistent monitoring can give officials an early warning by offering a view into how pathogens spread across the globe.”
TGS was among the first to detect many new SARS-CoV-2 variants entering the United States up to six weeks before they were reported elsewhere, including Omicron BA2, BA3, XBB, and BA2.86 – demonstrating the program’s valuable ability to detect new variants early.
“With air travel exceeding pre-pandemic levels and the ongoing spread of COVID-19 and other viruses, it is crucial that we continue to test,” said XpresCheck CEO Ezra Ernst. “The data that we collect provides crucial insights for public health officials to inform how best to protect our nation from the threat of evolving viruses. We thank the volunteers who elect to swab their noses in service to our national security and public health.”