Biologist's Toolbox
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Four Women Who are Transforming the Biologist’s Toolbox

The adage that a building is only as good as his or her tools not only rings true in the arena of hammers and nail, but also in the world of cells and molecules. As synthetic biology reaches new heights in its engineering feats, its builders inevitably demand more sophisticated tools to keep up with progress of the field. At SynBioBeta SF 2017, four women speakers will take the stage to share their companies’ plans for revamping the biologist’s toolbox with new instruments, software, and tech to empower all parts of the design-build-test cycle.

One of these women is Adrienne Higa, Senior Manager of Product Applications at Berkeley Lights, Inc.  Their platform is based on a device known as Beacon that uses microfluidic chambers and structured light to analyze the phenotype, morphology, and protein content of individual cells.  Her company’s device can do this for thousands of cells simultaneously and at regular time intervals.  Beacon supplies a level of precision and control that generally cannot be achieved in applications today.  By looking at cells one-by-one and from multiple metrics, users can select optimal cells and get better results when it comes to antibody discovery, cell line development, and more.

While Berkeley Lights is creating better tools for picking and choosing the best-engineered cells, Amy Twite’s company is building a better way to engineer those cells in the first place. Twite is the CSO of Indee Labs, a startup that is developing, in their own words, “hardware for gene delivery.”  What that means is a microfluidic device for transfecting large molecules (like DNA, RNA, and enzymes) into cells.  Their goal is to enable scalable production of the gene-modified cells used in cell therapies—not a bad space to occupy now that the very first CAR-T cell therapy was FDA-approved last month.

Another company offering tools for building (and more recently for designing) biology is Synthego, who will be represented by Joyce Yang, a scientist and graduate of Dr. George Church’s lab at Harvard University.  Last year Synthego unveiled the world’s first kit for performing CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing using a single guide RNA molecule.  Earlier this year, the company rolled out its online design software that enables customers to plan knockout experiments in an organism and gene of their choice and order the necessary custom kit to do so.  Synthego is continuing to grow its toolbox on the computational and automation fronts, topics that Yang will visit as she speaks on the Computation and Synthetic Biology session.

Alongside her in that session will be Laura Adam, co-founder of ebio·ome. Her startup offers an online platform for finding, storing, organizing, and sharing DNA sequences. The tool is designed to be a one-stop shop for sequence data. It includes a search engine for comparing sequences from different sources, multiple tools for visualizing the relationship between different sequences and parts of sequences, and seamless interfacing with other applications.

Want to learn more about how these women and others are transforming the toolbox of biology with exceptional innovations?  Be sure to register for SynBioBeta SF 2017!

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Christine Stevenson

Christine Stevenson is a freelance science writer and adjunct professor of biology at the Maricopa Community Colleges in the Phoenix metropolitan area. She holds an M.S. in Biology from Arizona State University and has a background in both wet lab research and venture capital consulting. She lives in Tempe, AZ with her dogs, cats, chickens, and goat.

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