[Three by Five] 11. Brewing Biotechnology Stories

When I speak with non-technical, non-biotech audiences, I’m always looking for a place where we can start the conversation. These days, it’s with brewing.

Most people, remember, know little-to-nothing about the way biology is impacting their lives.

Most people, I believe, want to know.

So these days, I start the conversation with beer and wine.

Both involve taking ingredients that have little value on their own. But add biology, shake or stir, wait a while, and you end up with beer or bourbon or mezcal or wine.

Plus, every culture has a tradition of fermentation so most people can relate.

Last week, Bloomberg ran a story titled, In the Future, There Will Be a Distillery on Every Corner.

The article points out that breweries and distilleries were among the manufacturing industries creating the most jobs.

In fact, they were the number 2 manufacturing industries with the most job growth. (Plastic products (!) were number one – let’s do something about that.)

Over the past decade, the brewing, distilling and wine-making industries have seen an explosion of new entrants.

Consumers looking for unique products and professionals looking for fulfilling jobs are driving growth.

The article makes another important point: craftsmanship is making a comeback in the US.

I see this as a biotechnology story, a distributed biological manufacturing story, and an important story about creating jobs.

If I can get someone to understand the brewing story, I can start talking about breweries as bio-reactors, factories where we use biology to create even more valuable products.

Then, I tell the stories Bolt Threads brewing spider silk and Modern Meadow printing leather.

I talk about Ginkgo Bioworks building the micro-organisms that will enable the transition from brewing to bioprocessing.

As my final example, I like to tell the story of Stanford professor Christine Smolke and her team. They genetically engineered yeast to produce opioids.

In doing so, they have the potential to improve access to painkillers in places where they are unavailable

How do you explain biotechnology?

[If you’re interested in the growth of the craft-beer boom, the Bloomberg article includes a rabbit hole of links to other articles on the craft-beer boom, small distilleries, and craft other stuff.]