How Synthetic Biology COULD save the world
September 7, 2017

I’ll be honest, I was not ready for this one. After dinner on the first day of the Business of Regenerative Medicine conference, I was not mentally prepared to have my entire thinking about the future turned on its head.

Mr. Andrew Hessel gave one of the best talks I have even seen in my life. He was funny, interactive and presented in an understandable manner. His talk focused on what he hoped humanity would be able to achieve with synthetic biology and his part in the grander scheme of it all. Andrew works as a Research Scientist at Autodesk as part of their Life Sciences division. (sidenote: who knew Autodesk had a Life Sciences division??!?) He explained that this division of Autodesk was working to make computational biology processes more user friendly and powerful with the same code that drives Autodesk’s main products. Check it out here! (All of it is free!)

Autodesk describes synthetic biology as the application of engineering principles to the empirical realm of biology. I wholeheartedly agree with this definition. Now that we are capable of controlled design at a nanoscale, we are able to accurately design the biological products that we need. One great example of this is DNA origami. For those not familiar with DNA origami, it is essentially using the molecules that make up our genetic identity (ie, DNA base pairs) as LEGO blocks to make almost any structure imaginable. The DNA base pairs interact on a molecular level that is predictable in such a way that the correct sequence of base pairs necessary can be determined by software. ( Think back to grade school when you had to map out on a 2D piece of paper what a 3D cube would look like. What’s even more exciting is that these structures can house other molecules, acting as a shuttle for drugs, proteins, and other small molecules. There is a international competition every year in Boston, MA that has teams present a unique application of DNA origami to a problem of their choosing. If you’re interested in learning more, check it out here:

What impressed me the most about Andrew’s presentation was his presentation style. Every slide was either one picture or a collection of pictures that he would talk about for a period of time. After the conference, I went back to my own presentations and completely revamped the styling. As a science communicator, I believe it is important to not inundate the audience with complicated text or graphs. Presenting a picture and then speaking about it or projects related to it will hold the audience’s longer, especially with a mixed scientific knowledge audience.

Stay tuned next time for my best attempt at trying to explain the research I do!!!

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Nathan Holwell
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