Monday, November 24, 2014
Does anyone know what Cambrian Genomics' Austen Heinz is talking about?
I've covered Cambrian Genomics before. This is the Bay Area startup that claims to be "laser printing DNA." (Long story short: it's not actually "printing." Cambrian appears to be using lasers to sort DNA on microbeads.)
I sure as hell don't know what Mr. Heinz is going to do with DNA for industrial chemical industries -- maybe this is a reference to biocatalysis?
I also want to point out this interview with Planet Tech. where his predictions of what synthetic biology can do begins to wander into science fiction:
. You recently described your vision of the future as "Anyone that has a mobile phone and bitcoin can create creatures." What exactly do you mean by this and how do you imagine it coming about? I mean that anyone with a phone can use genome design software for instance Benchling which runs on a web browser and order genes and DNA to make creatures that are useful to them.
Will people only be able to create new single-cell life or do you imaging the invention of entirely new larger organisms?
Yes i think new multicellular life forms built from a text file are possible but we need more progress in construction of large artificial chromosomes and the ability to print and sequence methylated dna at scale.
How do you plan to stop people from using your technology to create very dangerous microorganisms?
Virtualization. Instead of mailing out DNA we will send the DNA to a virtualization center like Transcriptic, Synthego, or Emerald Cloud Lab. From there they can put thousands of different DNA strands into thousands of cells then make thousands of video files of what those cells are doing and then do image
process and machine learning on those videos and send that data back to the user to do the next design.
Not until the final organism is made will it be evaluated for release. This definitely lowers the bar for us for processing orders because as long as the screening is heavily locked down there is little risk of release of malicious code.
. Where do you see the future of the company in 5 and 10 years?
In the next 5 years we want to be the largest manufacturer of DNA in the world. In 10 years we hope to be closer to our longterm mission of replacing all natural organisms on the planet with better synthetic ones. For instance having made the DNA for say 10% of all plant on the planet surface sounds like a reasonable goal. "Thousands of video files?" Does this even remotely make sense? Has there been some sort of advance in computer processing of microscopy files that I haven't heard about? (entirely possible) I know that he's predicting the future, speculating, "visioncasting", whatever. Count me highly, highly skeptical.
What I find really weird about the tech/venture journalism scene is how no one seems to be asking
any scientists subject matter experts anyone if any of the stuff Austen Heinz says can happen is true or untrue :
- Is it true that GSK has purchased DNA from Cambrian?
- Is it true that Cambrian is doing deals with Roche and ThermoFisher? (Somehow, I doubt it -- whose words are we relying on here? Mr. Heinz's, so far as I can tell.)
- He's obviously speculating about the future of synthetic biology -- how far off are his predictions from the median prediction of recognized experts in the field?
Readers, what do you think?