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The future will be genetically-engineered. We’re launching a technical blog to document its progress.
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Biology is the world’s most advanced technology. It is precise, diverse, and operates on wide scales.
A cell can rearrange molecules with atomic precision, using enzymes that perform millions of chemical reactions each second. A redwood tree compiles 250 tons of carbon into roots, leaves, and other structures during its lifetime; the entire tree grows using the DNA instructions encoded in a seed. At a smaller scale, there are billions of microbes in a small test tube culture, and some microbes can divide in less than 10 minutes. A single microbe can become a billion in under five hours.
All this to say: Biology is capable of incredible feats. Organisms can be harnessed to do great things in the world, if we could reliably engineer them. Genetic engineering, though, is still in the dark ages compared to most other technical fields.
Today, cells are engineered mostly through trial-and-error. Scientists use robots, and rely on the natural multiplicity of organisms, to perform millions of experiments in a single vial. But as we try to design increasingly complex biology, this approach will likely fail. We cannot test even a small fraction of the combinatorial space within biochemistry. (A protein with four amino acids has 160,000 possible permutations. The average human protein has 430 amino acids.) If we truly want to harness living cells to “make just about anything,” then we need to make genetic engineering a quantitative, predictable field.
To do this, Asimov is building a suite of tools, cell lines, genetic parts, and CAD software. We use them to engineer cells to perform functions that would otherwise be impossible. Our CAD software is used to design DNA constructs made of individual genetic parts, and also to model how the DNA will work in cells. When we invent a new tool, improve a predictive modeling algorithm, or collect data on new DNA sequences, everything is added to the platform. We license everything to scientists.
A key goal here is democratization: We want anyone to be able to use engineering-grade tools to reliably design biology in sophisticated ways. If we’re successful, much of what we use in our everyday world — food, medicines, and clothes — could be a product of genetic engineering. Things that are already produced by genetic engineering — insulin, CAR-T cancer therapies, pest-resistant crops, and mosquitoes that curb disease — will become cheaper and more accessible.
We know that this vision will be difficult to achieve. And, like other audacious goals, it will require a veritable village to make it happen. That’s why we are launching a technical blog to document our ideas, progress, and impressions.
We will share our excitement, reveal our challenges, and explain what we are doing to move things forward. We also want to push beyond the hype and hyperbole that is so common in synthetic biology, and openly discuss “how the sausage gets made.”
This blog is not a place for press releases. It is inspired by the technical blogs published by Netflix, Square, and Stripe. We will do our best to build credibility over time, by sharing as many details as we possibly can.
Not all of the blogs will be about Asimov, either. Some will be deep explainers about emerging topics within genetic design, like deep learning for protein function or how to make more precise gene therapies. Other pieces will discuss our work in software design, automated bioreactor data processing, biophysical modeling, and therapeutics biomanufacturing. Each post will be co-written by scientists working on those projects.
We know that the key to credibility is specificity, so we’ll do our best to explain everything in an open and transparent way. When we don’t know the answer to a question, we’ll tell you. When we can’t talk about something because it’s proprietary, we’ll tell you. But we will always strive to be deeply technical in our effort to demystify biology.