paint-brush
Engineering biology to change the worldby@peteryin
190 reads

Engineering biology to change the world

by Peter YinJune 7th, 2017
Read on Terminal Reader
Read this story w/o Javascript
tldt arrow

Too Long; Didn't Read

In 2011, I came across <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/06/science/drew-endy-better-computing-for-the-things-we-care-about-most.html" target="_blank">an article</a> in the New York Times by <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drew_Endy" target="_blank">Drew Endy</a> about bringing <a href="https://hackernoon.com/tagged/engineering" target="_blank">engineering</a> and computation to biology. The concepts of biological computers, smartly engineered plants, and data storage in living cells had my mind spinning with curiosity and excitement. The idea of bringing basic biological knowledge together with engineering principles inspired me. That summer, I flew out to Stanford for a summer internship where I got my first dive into the world of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahYZBeP_r5U" target="_blank">Synthetic Biology.</a>
featured image - Engineering biology to change the world
Peter Yin HackerNoon profile picture

In 2011, I came across an article in the New York Times by Drew Endy about bringing engineering and computation to biology. The concepts of biological computers, smartly engineered plants, and data storage in living cells had my mind spinning with curiosity and excitement. The idea of bringing basic biological knowledge together with engineering principles inspired me. That summer, I flew out to Stanford for a summer internship where I got my first dive into the world of Synthetic Biology.

6 years later I am now at Zymergen, a company that uses software, automation, and synthetic biology to create better products. I joined the Automation team to build the platform that enables us to unlock the power of biology.

Millions of years of evolution have developed tiny, versatile factories called cells. They store both the instructions (DNA) and machinery (organelles) required to churn out a variety of useful molecules. In the past 40 years, the genetic engineering revolution has enabled us to edit these instructions while still taking advantage of the machinery. This has led biological production of chemicals and medicines that would not have been possible otherwise. It once took 8,000 pounds of pancreas glands from 23,500 animals to make one pound of insulin. Today, a majority of insulin is produced in large fermenters by genetically modified yeast, the same organism used to make our beer and bread.

We are now in the midst of a new revolution. The time and cost of sequencing and synthesizing DNA are dropping rapidly. Cheap computational power and innovation in processing units have paved the way for leaps in the performance and applications of artificial intelligence. Advances in laboratory automation enable higher-throughput and efficiency than ever before.

We are working in a future that is largely unwritten. Classic rules of experimental design give way to discovery-based approaches. Traditional constraints on throughput and resources lessen with automated workflows. A scientist’s intuition can now be augmented with data-driven models. Zymergen is bringing together these tools to define the new age of biological engineering and technology. I’m excited to be a part of the ride.

P.S We’re hiring.