synthetic biology


Kickstarting Synbio with Antony Evans

Podcast brought to you by: Chempetitive Group - Who for more than a decade has helped science-based companies build and execute innovative marketing campaigns. "We love science. We love marketing. We love the idea of combining the two to make great things happen for your marketing communications."

Guests:

Antony Evans, Project Manager, Glowing Plants Bio and Contact Info

Listen (6:07) Glowing plants produced before

Listen (5:45) Goals of the project

Listen (9:01) Biggest hurdles on ethical and policy front

Listen (2:27) Democratizing synthetic biology

There’s a new synthetic biology project attracting a lot of attention over at kickstarter. With the title: Glowing Plants: Natural Lighting with no Electricity, the project has already over 5,000 backers and has raised over $300,000. Will this be a great way to introduce synthetic biology to the larger public and inspire others to do similar projects? Here to talk about the goal and details of Glowing Plants is project leader, Antony Evans.

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

Guests:

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.)

SynBioBeta

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.

Disrupting Synthetic Biology: Kevin Munnelly, Gen9

Podcast brought to you by: Chempetitive Group - Who for more than a decade has helped science-based companies build and execute innovative marketing campaigns. "We love science. We love marketing. We love the idea of combining the two to make great things happen for your marketing communications."

Guest:

Kevin Munnelly, CEO, Gen9 Bio and contact Info

Chapters: (Advance the marker)

0:39 A disruptive change to synthetic biology

6:56 Why hasn't gene synthesis progressed along with sequencing?

10:14 Looking at the market: applications for synthetic biology

15:29 Educating the market the biggest challenge

19:01 PR efforts going into biosecurity

25:07 Personal path to Gen9

As part of our series on synthetic biology, we talk with Kevin Munnelly, CEO of Gen9, a new gene synthesis company founded by George Church of Harvard, Joseph Jacobson of MIT, and Drew Endy of Stanford. According to Munnelly, Gen9 is not just another gene synthesis company, but one which will dramatically disrupt the space. The theory is that just as the declining cost of sequencing has enabled new applications for genomics, so too will a drastically reduced price for synthetic genes. Kevin believes we are just at the beginning of a synthetic biology revolution and it's new technology such as his that will enable it. What are these new applications and why hasn't gene synthesis kept pace with sequencing we ask Kevin in today's show.

Synthetic Biology Informs Space Exploration with John Cumbers, NASA

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

Guest:

John Cumbers, PhD, Synthetic Biologist, NASA Bio and Contact Info

Chapters: (Advance the marker)

0:36 What are you working on at NASA's Synthetic Biology Program?

7:01 What questions come up for synthetic biology in space exploration?

12:06 Practical steps to colonizing Mars and the moon

17:27 Highlights of synbio conference at NASA

22:31 How would you convince the average American person that we should colonize space?

24:39 How did you come to this?

31:29 "Synbio Launchpad" for startups

Talk to any futurist and you’ll probably hear that we have to get our species off this planet. (See our recent blog, It's Settled: We Have a Candidate for First Mayor of Mars.)

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.

NASA and Singularity U Partner to Create SynBio Launchpad

In a first of its kind, a new incubator modeled on the well known Y Combinator has been started for emerging synthetic biology companies. SynBio Launchpad is a joint effort by Singularity University, provider of higher education in exponentially advancing industries, and their landlord, NASA. The program came about from a discussion between Andrew Hessel, co-chair of SU’s Biotechnology and Bioinformatics track, and John Cumbers, Deputy Managing Director of Synthetic Biology at NASA.

George Church Talks Personalized Medicine and Synthetic Biology

This podcast originally aired on May 25th, 2011

Sponsored by: BioConference Live

Guest: Church George, PhD, Professor of Genetics, Harvard Medical School and Professor of Health Sciences & Technology, Harvard and MIT. Bio and Contact Info

Part I-Personalized MedicineChurch George Listen (20:24)

Part II-Synthetic BiologyChurch George Listen (19:04)

Part III-Personal AnecdotesChurch George Listen (06:54)

Our guest for the hour is Dr. George Church from Harvard. Dr. Church’s accomplishments are legendary among scientists in his field and beyond. His Ph.D. from Harvard in biochemistry and molecular biology with Wally Gilbert included the first direct genomic sequencing method in 1984. In 1994, the technology transfer of automated sequencing and software to Genome Therapeutics Corp. resulted in the first commercial genome sequence (the human pathogen, H. pylori). He was then involved in initiating the Human Genome Project as a Research Scientist at Biogen Inc. In 2006 he initiated the Personal Genome Project with the aim of advancing the field of Personalized Medicine. He invented the broadly-applied concepts of molecular multiplexing and tags, homologous recombination methods, and array DNA synthesizers. He has served in advisory roles for 12 journals and 5 granting agencies and also been involved in 22 private companies including LS9-which focuses on bio-petroleum, and Knome who provides full human genome sequencing. Current research focuses on integrating biosystems-modeling with personal genomics and synthetic biology.



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