This week I’ve been thinking a lot about this MIT Technology Review article on writing the yeast genome. The article profiles NYU’s Jef Boeke, one of the founders and leaders of Genome Project write (GP-write). Writing a genome, which is still expensive, will drive advances across many fields (I’ve written about this project in the past and predicted – incorrectly – that the scientists would be finished by the end of last year.)
Healthcare is broken. It’s expensive, eats up a significant part of our gross domestic product, and entering the healthcare system is no fun. Just think about the forms you have to fill out every time you visit a new doctor. The news that Apple is creating medical clinics for its employees (and to test new products) is very very interesting. If you believe that Apple was instrumental in designing technology that is easier to use (and I do), then for sure they will create a healthcare experience that many of us will crave.
 Colored scanning electron micrograph of lab-grown baker’s yeast.
Teenage Engineering is a Swedish manufacturer of synthesizers and audio gear. For my birthday, Tomás and Felix, my youngest sons, gave me a Pocket Operator Arcade. It’s a calculator-sized, AAA-battery powered synthesizer. Pre-programmed with 16 video game sounds, 16 prebuilt patterns, and 16 sound effects, the Arcade is a simple, elegant sound maker. I’m using it for chiptunes-making (and time wasting!). It was the perfect, sweetest birthday present.
Question:What will be the synthetic biology equivalent of a PO-20?
Hemingway Editor. I usually jot these three by fives on an actual notecard, then transfer them to Hemingway for editing. Hemingway shows me what sentences are hard to read, reminds me not to write in passive voice. Plus, it tells me how readable my prose is. Usually, I aim for 6th grade but given the long, biology-related words I use, I’m usually happy for 12th.
Organism or microbe design is an emerging industry.
It’s analogous to the semi-conductor industry. Companies design and manufacture the semi-conductors found in computers, phones, cars, and televisions.
Today, end-users rarely make semi-conductors themselves. They hire the expertise and apply what is manufactured to create a product.
Organism design companies are reprograming yeast and bacteria to produce useful molecules. Those molecules are used in consumer goods, foods, medicines and industrial products.
Perhaps the best known organism company is Boston’s Ginkgo Bioworks. Sarah Zhang profiled the company this week in an article I enjoyed in The Atlantic. (We featured co-founder Jason Kelly and creative director Christina Agapakis in What’s Your Bio Strategy?)
Minecraft Chemistry. A couple of week’s ago, Microsoft added a Chemistry Set to its popular game. Since there are about 55 million people worldwide playing (and some 122 million games sold) that’s a lot of potential exposure to chemistry and crafting. What does the synthetic biology expansion kit look like?
Netflix just started airing Altered Carbon. It’s a rad take Richard K. Morgan’s 2002 cyberpunk novel. One of my favorite genres, cyberpunk typically explores how the street repurposes tech, life in cyberspace and off-planet.
Last fall, I reread William Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy – Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive. (Neuromancer, BTW, is credited with “launching” the cyberpunk genre, though purists will cite British New Wave authors and Philip K. Dick as originators.)
I was searching for biotech references. And man, did I find them, from the neurotoxin sacs that are surgically implanted in Neuromancer main character Case’s body, to a Mitsubishi-Genentech merger (that never happened), and hackers trying to bring back by-then extinct horses.
In many ways, Gibson already riding the biotech wave years before synthetic biology was re-defined. Gibson includes less biotech in later novels but he is always readable. His writing enjoyable and thought-provoking and he remains one of my favorite authors, plus his Twitter stream is a blast to follow.