Submitted by Ayanna Monteverdi on Thu, 05/11/2017 - 09:11
What does it take to make it in synthetic biology in 2017?
Working as a bio engineer at NASA, John Cumbers founded SynBioBeta, the primary “activity hub” for the synthetic biology community. SynBioBeta will be putting on their sixth conference this year in San Francisco, along with conferences in London and Singapore. The young industry has seen a flourish of startups working on new genome engineering tools and a dizzying array of applications that include synthetic animal meat and synthetic human skin. Last month John partnered with Data Collective to launch a new seed stage fund for this space.
John is not only interested in startups. Currently writing a book with the working title, “What’s Your Bio Strategy?”, he is provoking existing companies to consider using biology as technology.
“The book is designed to be something we could take into [Apple CEO] Tim Cook’s office, and ask him what’s your bio strategy. And he says, 'I don’t have a bio strategy.' So you put the book on his desk and say give me a call if we can help you to develop one.”
When we first talked with John, he was heading up a program at NASA to develop building materials for use on Mars. Five years later, is John's number one goal in life still to settle the solar system?
So, if we’re going to Mars or the moon, what are the practical steps I ask today’s guest, John Cumbers, a synthetic biologist at NASA Ames. John talks about the practical details, from the kind of food Mars pioneers will be eating--and “growing”, to making use of elements in lunar soil to produce cement. And he does it with a surprising ease and candor. After completing a PhD on the science of aging, Cumbers became curious about space and the continuation of the species. He tells how he would convince the average person that we should be colonizing space.
Let me share a bit of my past. There’s some fine irony here to enjoy.
I grew up fundamentalist Mormon. Mormons believe that we are practicing to be gods ourselves. Fundamentalist Mormons believe that Adam is God. That God himself came to earth to start the whole human race. And so too, (“and so too” is a nice Mormon phrase) we may become Gods ourselves. And then go build our own planets. And people them too. (That's right, the presidency is really just a stepping stone for Mitt Romney. He'll have more wives and many more kids when he gets his own planet someday.)