Summer Genomics Festival, the Other Sports Genes, and Brain Surgery for Fruit Flies

Gene and Tonic for June 5, 2015

What does genomics have to do with a hippie rock music event?  A few things.  Find out in today’s humorous preview of the Festival of Genomics, happening later this month in Boston.  

Yes, there are the sports genes everyone knows about.  But what about those less studied that might affect your career in sports?  Do you know what is written on the sports page of your genome?

And what has Ben Carson considering brain surgery?  Tune in to this week’s wrap of genomics news - it’s another Gene and Tonic from Mendelspod.


This Is So Today: SENS Foundation Kicks Off New Conference on Aging

I like going to first time conferences.  Like a newborn animal struggling to stand up,  they wobble as they learn who they are.  This opens up unique opportunities.

Last week the SENS Foundation put on the first ever Rejuvenation Biotechnology conference in Santa Clara.  (“Rejuvenation” might be misleading.  This is a conference on aging, not on spa treatments.)  The SENS Foundation operates on the  “belief that a world free of age-related disease is possible,”  and the conference is a way to build a community around that belief.  

Pioneer in the Virtual World Announces Three New Life Science Conferences

My first LinkedIn invite was sent by a young businessman named Greg Cruikshank.  He was listed as the founder of Labroots.

Not knowing a thing at the time about social media, I wanted to understand more about this site that expected me to type in my resume and share it with the whole world.  And who was Greg Cruikshank and Labroots?

Editor of Bio-IT World Shares Overview of Bioinformatics in 2013

Podcast brought to you by: Ingenuity Variant Analysis - Identify causal variants from human sequencing data in just hours.


Kevin Davies , Editor-in-Chief, Bio-IT World Bio and Contact Info

Listen (3:41) What must we all know about bioinformatics?

Listen (12:30) The explosive genome interpretation space

Listen (3:27) What will success in this space look like?

Listen (3:38) The Clinical Genome Conference expanding

Listen (6:18) What does it mean that CHI bought out the Genetic Conference?

Kevin Davies is the founding editor and current Editor-in-Chief of Bio-IT World. Reporting regularly on all things bioinformatics, he joins us to share his thoughts on the field. This last year has seen a flowering of new companies offering genome interpretation and reporting, a space Davis says is "the most interesting to me personally." But what will success for these early entrants look like?

DTC genomics has changed drastically since Davies covered the field in his 2010 book, The $1,000 Genome. Is the world of DTC genomics over? And what does it mean that CHI, conference producer and owner of Bio-IT World, bought out the Consumer Genetics Conference last year?

Are We Graduating from Reading to Writing? The First SynBioBeta Conference

We hear a lot about how DNA sequencing is changing the world. Our ability to read the code of life is taking us a level deeper in our understanding of the human body and of the other life forms around us. Sequencing is all about “reading.” Occasionally, not very often, we’ll get someone to the program who talks about “writing” the code of life. Isn’t this where we’re going? To a world where, OK, now we understand the code, let’s write our own.

SynBioBeta: An Inaugural Event


John Cumbers, PhD, Founder, SynBioBeta Bio and contact Info

Timothy S. Gardner, PhD, Director, Research Programs and Operations, Amyris Inc. Bio and contact Info

Chapters: (Advance the marker)

0:00 John Cumbers talks about SynBioBeta, the new conference for synthetic biology startups.

14:51 Tim Gardner discusses Amyris biofuels program and the diversification of the industry.

We hear a lot about how DNA sequencing is changing the world. Our ability to read the code of life is taking us a level deeper in our understanding of the human body and of the other life forms around us. Sequencing is all about “reading.” Occasionally, not very often, we’ll get someone to the program who talks about “writing” the code of life. Isn’t this where we’re going? To a world where, OK, now we understand the code, let’s write our own. Yes, nature has given us an incomprehensible diversity of food and materials to make us happy. But now we’re graduating from the class of reading, of using and at times manipulating what’s already there, to the class of writing where we make new life forms which can do even more for us.

Ask any scientist what synthetic biology is, and you’ll get just as many answers as you do to the question, who/what is God. Last week I attended the inaugural conference for synthetic biology entrepreneurs, the SynBioBeta conference held in Menlo Park, CA. (The site will be a resource for synbio startups and stay up through the year.) For today’s show, I interviewed the founder and creator of the conference, John Cumbers, and the Director of Research Programs at Amyris, Tim Gardner, a speaker at the event. Listen to their interviews to see how they define synthetic biology.

“Biology is just another code,” we heard mid-morning from Omri Amirav-Drory. He’s the founder of Genome Compiler Corp, a new venture developing the software that really democratizes creation itself. With his software, you can go in and build a genome. That’s all. I’d like some of this, some of that, and a few of those, please. With a few of these thrown in for good measure. It appears the path to the future will also be a matter of what we sit and do every day: cut, copy, and paste. With colored boxes for different genes, the software looks so simple that even I could build myself a cute little genome.

It’s easy to see at the SynBioBeta how the imagination can take flight into a world of synthetic possibilities. And some of this field belongs to what Tim Gardner from Amyris calls the “sci-fi crowd.

“Well, if you’re not in the sci-fi crowd, which crowd are you in?” I ask Gardner as we walk to a quiet room to record his interview.

“My passion comes in working on problems that we face now, everyday. At Amyris we’re working for the day when you can pull your car up to the gas station and choose biofuel as an option, at no more expense than the current market price.” Gardner’s low key manner grounds his practical approach. (For more about Amyris, see the interview.)


Slide from John Cumbers' Presentation at SynBioBeta

Other highlights from the show for me were first, the explosion of startups in the field. To begin the conference, Cumbers put up a slide showing, with a virtually exponential curve, the number of synbio startups over the last few years. I asked several of the founders whether synthetic biology was more some answers looking for solutions. It was evident from the presentations that to succeed many of these fledgling companies had pivoted at least once to new markets. Company founders replied that it would go back and forth. They entered into a project via one application, found a technology, then when the first application didn’t work out, looked around for another way to commercialize. In the case of Amyris, they are going into a range of markets, from fuels to perfumes, all with just one molecule.

Cumbers says that we’re seeing the transition synthetic biology is making from being pretty much exclusively research to the commercial world.

Michael Koeris is a co-founder of Sample6 Technologies based in Boston. “We had to pivot twice, now it looks like it’s working,” the entrepreneur told me at the break. The company is engineering viruses that attack bacteriophages to detect bacterial contamination in agricultural applications. Michael’s colleage, Tim Lu, another co-founder was profiled in this BBC article earlier in the year.

I found the panel on CAD tools for synbio most intriguing. Carlos Alguin from Autodesk Research spoke. His company is responsible for a great deal of 3D modeling, including the work for the blockbuster movie, Avatar. It wasn’t clear how Autodesk’s platform would practically aid the synbio businesses in the room, but this is was not a conference about connecting every dot on the spot.

“What will the next generation of designers be able to do when they grow up with these tools,” Carlos provoked the crowd. It’s a great question.

The Online Conference for the Life Sciences: A Preview

Greg Cruikshank, President, BioConferenceLive Bio and Contact Info

Steve Shiflett, Technical Product Manager, Thermo Fisher Scientific Bio and Contact Info

Listen (5:10) Highlights of upcoming BCL Fall 2012

Listen (5:17) A run-down on the all new Labroots

Listen (4:15) Steve Shiflett of Thermo talks of exhibiting

For the 4th year in a row Bioconference Live has been producing virtual conferences for clinical diagnostics and the life sciences.. They put on three shows each year and this week is the Life Sciences conference Sept 12 and 13th. The conferences are free and are growing in number of speakers and audience. There’s a virtual exhibit hall where you can interact with various vendors. We have the founder of Bioconference Live, Greg Cruikshank on the line to tell us a bit about the show and then we’ll be joined by one of the participating exhibitors, Thermo.

Note: Theral will be speaking at the conference on Open Science:The People Behind the Movement on Wed at 11 am PST. Register for free.

Bringing Bio Together with Europe, in Europe: BPFE 2012 with Robert Kilpatrick

Podcast brought to you by: Assay Depot - the world's largest cloud-based Research Exchange for pharmaceutical research services.


Dr. Robert Lee Kilpatrick, Co-founder of TVG Bio and Contact Info

Chapters: (Advance the marker)

0:45 History and outlook of Biopartnering Future Europe (BPFE)

6:45 Face to face meetings still the number one way to get business done

13:11 Path to TVG

18:05 Biotech only interesting if it enhances life on earth

TVG Network, based in Santa Cruz, CA, has been producing the longest running bio partnering conference in Europe. This year, with the encouragement of the European Commission, the show has been renamed "Biopartnering Future Europe (BPFE)" to reference the Commission's goal of creating a knowledge-based economy in Europe. The show has also been moved this year from London to the more centrally located Brussels, Belgium, capital of the European Union. It takes place October 7-9, 2013.

Robert previews the show and explains why biotech companies want to participate. He says that "face to face meetings are still the number one way to get business done."

Joining Robert in his home garden, we ask him about his journey from history of science teacher in Cambridge, England to producing global conferences from Santa Cruz, CA.

Who Will Report Bio? with Danny Levine, Burrill & Company

Podcast Sponsor: Ingenuity - iReport, the fastest and most accurate way to get biological meaning from your expression data. iReport/


Danny Levine, Managing Director, Burrill&Company Bio and Contact Info

Listen (11:16) Consequences of few daily news reporters at BIO

Listen (5:59) Public trusts a daily reporter

Listen (6:57) Industry issues less about science and more about policy

Listen (2:11) A note about recent decision to uphold healthcare law

Listen (4:26) Role of scientists in today's world

Recently, more than 15,000 folks gathered in Boston for the annual BIO Convention, the largest gathering of the year for industry execs, national and local politicians, scientists and about anyone connected to the industry. However, this year there was a noticeable absence - a glaring lack of daily newspaper reporters. To discuss this and what it means for the industry we’re joined by Danny Levine, host of the popular podcast for the Burrill Report and managing director for Burrill’s Media division. In an article this week titled, “The Biotech Story You Won’t Read in Your Local Newspaper,” Danny wrote about the absence of the daily press at the event.

Danny also shares his thoughts about the recent ruling upholding the healthcare bill and weighs in on the role of scientists in today's world.

BioConference Live 'Clinical Diagnostics': A Preview

Podcast Sponsor: Ingenuity - iReport, the fastest and most accurate way to get biological meaning from your expression data. iReport/


Greg Cruikshank, President, BioConferenceLive Bio and Contact Info

Listen (8:28) Greg Cruikshank previews changes and highlights

Whitney Green, VP, Molecular Diagnostics, Roche Bio and Contact Info

Listen (7:16) Whitney Green talks about Roche strategy and participation in the conference

On May 23-24, BioConference Live will be producing their 3rd annual Clinical diagnostics online conference. The event brings together clinicians, researchers, and medical experts from around the world to learn about recent advances in clinical diagnostics and medicine. The show is free and the venue a click away on your computer. Attendees can earn CME and CE Credits at no charge by watching live video presentations. Users can browse the virtual exhibit hall and interact with vendors such as Roche Diagnostics, Siemens, and Cardinal Health. Today we’re joined by some guests to preview the conference. First we’ll talk with the founder of BioConference Live, Greg Cruikshank. Then to the the VP of Roche’s diagnostics division, Whitney Green.