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Blue-Sky Thinking in Synthetic Biology

What will it take for synthetic biology to live up to its promise? 7investing Lead Advisor Maxx Chatsko talks with visionary scientist Andrew Hessel about pushing the envelope of living technologies -- and the future of psychedelics.

October 19, 2021 – By Samantha Bailey

Investors often see synthetic biology referred to as an industry, but that’s not quite accurate. Biology touches many different industries ranging from food to chemicals, energy to health care. In the future, biological systems will be used for economic activities not typically associated with living things, such as digital data storage, manufacturing metallic nanoparticles, robotics, and perhaps even semiconductors and computing.

7investing Lead Advisor Maxx Chatsko has always defined synthetic biology as a way of thinking. It’s about applying an engineering mindset to biology. After all, the primary goal of synthetic biology is to precisely engineer living things and achieve a predictable, reproducible outcome. These outcomes are unbounded by economic constructs such as sectors and industries or goods and services.

Semantics and linguistics aside, there are foundational questions that need to be asked before synthetic biology can live up to its potential. How can scientists precisely engineer living things and observe a reproducible outcome? What foundational tools and technology layers are needed to enable synthetic biology? If these critical pieces of infrastructure don’t exist, then who or what should be tasked with building them?

Andrew Hessel is often the one doing the asking. Increasingly, he’s been doing a lot of the answering, too.

Hessel is hands down the best blue-sky thinker in synthetic biology. He completed his undergraduate (cellular, molecular, and microbial biology) and graduate (bacterial genomics) work at the University of Calgary. He’s been fascinated with the amazing potential to program biology ever since starting his career as a scientist at Amgen over two decades ago.

More recently, Hessel served on the faculty at Singularity University, led the synthetic biology division at Autodesk, founded Humane Genomics to engineer oncolytic viruses for personalized cancer treatments, and co-founded the Genome-Project-Write Project. The infamous Human Genome Project was concerned with developing the tools required to sequence (or read) a full human genome, whereas GP-write is concerned with developing the tools required to synthesize (or write) full genomes of various organisms.

Why stop there? In early 2022, Hessel and bestselling science writer Amy Webb will publish a book called “The Genesis Machine: Our Quest to Rewrite Life in the Age of Synthetic Biology” describing how we got here and where we might be headed.

In this episode of the podcast, Maxx Chatsko and Andrew Hessel discuss what he’s been up to lately, what he’s most excited about in synthetic biology, and what’s ahead for programmable biology.

Publicly-traded companies mentioned or alluded to in this podcast include Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Alphabet, Amgen, Apple, Autodesk, BGI, BioNTech, Ginkgo Bioworks, Illumina, Moderna, Oxford Nanopore, Pacific Biosciences, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and Zymergen.

7investing Lead Advisor Maxx Chatsko has no position in any companies mentioned on this podcast. Andrew Hessel may own shares of companies mentioned on this podcast.


Related 7investing Content:

What’s Next for Synthetic Biology?

Bringing Synthetic Biology to Consumers, One Material at a Time

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