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SynBioBeta COVID-19 Town Hall #2: Building the synthetic biology tool stack for detecting SARS-CoV-2

Thursday, March 12, 2020, 7:30-8:30 am Pacific

More widespread community testing of the new coronavirus is needed to mount an effective public health response. Building on our first town hall meeting, this second town hall brought together innovators working on the hardware, wetware, and software for diagnostics. In particular, participants discussed the need for reliable reference standards needed for a full diagnostic solution to effective, high-throughput testing. Expert panelists:

  • Charles Chiu, M.D./Ph.D., Professor of Laboratory Medicine and Medicine at UCSF and Director of the Abbott Viral Diagnostics and Discovery Center (VDDC). Dr. Chiu has been following the disease since its outbreak and offered his clinical research perspective on what science has revealed about how the coronavirus is transmitted, what happens to someone who’s infected, and why a single diagnostic test may not be enough.
  • Rebecca Nugent, Director of Research & Development of Twist Bioscience. Rebecca joined Twist Bioscience after many years in the biofuels and green chemicals industry. She leads Twist’s R&D teams focused on synthetic biology and Next-Generation Sequencing Target Enrichment (NGS TE) products. Twist announced the availability of synthetic SARS-CoV-2 RNA controls needed by researchers developing tests, and in a blog post discusses its role in providing the genetic material needed to develop not just tests, but also potential vaccines and therapeutics.
  • Will Canine, Co-founder and CPO of Opentrons
    Opentrons makes affordable, open-source, easy-to-use lab robots for biologists. Will believes in the power of democratizing biotechnology because of its potential to solve big problems ranging from food security and climate change to mass manufacturing and emerging disease. Opentrons announced a scalable, automated COVID-19 testing solution that uses its inexpensive OT-2 robot to help enable population-scale testing.
  • Trevor Martin, Co-founder and CEO of Mammoth Biosciences
    Trevor is leading the company, co-founded with CRISPR co-inventor Jennifer Doudna, on a mission to democratize access to the next generation of CRISPR tools for therapeutics and diagnostics. On Tuesday, Mammoth published a preprint on MedRxiv describing how its CRISPR-based DETECTR system can detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus in real patient samples with a paper-based system in 30 minutes, compared to hours for conventional testing.


John Cumbers

John Cumbers is the founder of SynBioBeta. John is passionate about education and on the use and adoption of biological technologies. He has received multiple awards and grants from NASA and the National Academy of Sciences for his work in the field. John has been involved in multiple startups such as those producing food for space, microbes to extract lunar and martian resources, and hoverboards! John is an active investor through the DCVC SynBioBeta Fund and his synthetic biology syndicate on AngelList.

Kevin Costa

As Editor and Program Manager, Kevin leads SynBioBeta's digital media content, with the goal of telling the story of the people, companies, and ideas shaping the future with biology. Before joining SynBioBeta, Kevin managed the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center. His interests include public engagement, science writing, community building, and bikes!

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