A Glowing Plant: the First Fruit of “Digitized” Genetic Engineering


By Antony Evans

Synthetic biology is entering an exciting new phase. An ecosystem of companies is now developing services to enable faster, cheaper, and better genetic engineering. They are, in effect, “digitizing” genetic engineering through relatively inexpensive cloud-based and robotic laboratories that bring capabilities that were once the exclusive domain of large corporations to academic groups and small startups.

To use an old computing analogy, this is biotech’s PC moment: Digitization allows those without technical expertise to operate at higher, more abstract levels. The digital keys to synthetic biology–reproducibility and protocol sharing–could make biological apps as easy to develop as mobile apps are today. Currently, implementing and optimizing a new experiment in a conventional lab can take a Ph.D.-level researcher weeks or months. Once digitized, however, anyone anywhere in the world can implement such a protocol without such extensive training–adopting a new protocol becomes relatively simple.

My company’s aim is to extend these new digital capabilities to the work of engineering plants. As a proof of principle our first product is, literally, a Glowing Plant. To create it, we integrated a suite of technologies that allows us to design, test, and optimize multigene pathways in plants. To make a plant “glow,” is of course just one of an infinite variety of alterations that might be possible.

We’ve recently started making our system available to a select group of alpha partners to make their own apps. In the future, we hope anyone–from teenagers to grandmas–will be able to use our platform to make a genetically engineered plant with novel characteristics and send it out into the world–as a business or for fun. What people will create with these technologies will be limited only by their imagination. As with other technologies that became democratized, this one will open up a breathtaking world —> Read More