Hi, My Name is: “The Organism Industry”
The technology industry is insane to me from both a valuation and capital cost standpoint. Consider that you or your crazy Uncle Joe could conceivably sit in pajamas, on a couch, and build a website or mobile app that will generate millions or billions in revenue. It costs you virtually nothing if you have the right tools and requires little outside investment to commercialize and scale. It’s lean. Simply reference Angry Birds or Facebook.
Biotechnologies take considerably longer to commercialize, require a jaw-dropping amount of investment and capital, and suffer from a lack of accessible tools from which to start with. It’s difficult to conceive a Steve Jobs of the synthetic biology industry building a commercial product (organism) in his or her garage and taking it to investors or consumers. Or, it was anyway.
By switching the “Build” step with the “Test” step, scientists are able to cheaply, quickly, and efficiently learn from mistakes to design the optimal organism for any process. Essentially, the organism industry aims to characterize an organism with lines of software code. That can translate into some incredible possibilities — such as you sitting in your pajamas, on a couch, and designing a revenue generating organism. No Ph.D required. Think of the explosion in bioeconomy revenue — already growing at 15% annually — that can be enabled.
Three things in particular are emerging and combining to make the organism industry possible:
- Software: bioCAD/bioCAM software platforms enabling design and testing of virtual organisms (see TeselaGen, Genome Compiler, and even Autodesk).
- Automation: Robots that can perform repetitive tasks more quickly and accurately than an overworked intern with an arsenal of pipettes.
- Cheap biological parts: Organism builders such as Ginkgo and Synthace can leverage the infrastructure of the DNA synthesis industry (see Gen9, Integrated DNA Technologies, and DNA 2.0) to order specific genes to build customer organisms in a matter of weeks. Likewise, each can keep important parts stored onsite for liquid handling machines to access.