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The Recipients of the 1st Annual Engineering Biology Awards Are…

The Annual SynBioBeta Engineering Biology Awards

SynBioBeta has been supporting and reporting on the growth of synthetic biology as a field for many years now. From humble beginnings synthetic biology has reached the point where it underlies hundreds of companies, large and small, and is expected to support a market of between 5-10 billion USD in the next few years. Because of this, we like to recognise the people who have both established this industry and helped it to grow – people who are the infrastructure of the revolution, as it were. The Annual SynBioBeta Engineering Biology Awards are our contribution to this, developed to provide special recognition to those who have reshaped the synthetic biology field. The inaugural awards will be presented at the upcoming SynBioBeta SF 2015 conference, on November 5th.

When presenting awards for going beyond normal efforts, it seems only right to have a presenter who has herself been further than most of us could ever imagine. As such, we are exceptionally happy to have Catherine Coleman, NASA Astronaut, hosting the awards. Having entered the US Air Force, Catherine Coleman completed a doctorate in Polymer Science and Engineering in 1991. She was selected by NASA the year afterwards, taking part in three missions into space aboard both the Space Shuttle and ISS. When not floating around in low earth orbit, she took on a series of leadership and liaison roles at NASA including Chief of Robotics at the Astronaut Office. All in all, an exceptional set of experiences.

So who will she be presenting these awards to? This year’s SynBioBeta awards will be going to Dr Alicia Jackson, Dr Christina Smolke, and The Rt Hon Lord David Willetts. Let’s look at these three in more detail.

Dr Alicia Jackson

Dr Jackson is currently CTO of Drawbridge Health, following on from her role at DARPA, the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, where she was Deputy Director of the Biological Technologies Office, or BTO. What does this actually involve?

The BTO focuses on using engineering and computer science to push biotech research forward, providing almost 350 million USD in annual grants. These grants cover areas such as neurotechnology, human-machine interfaces, human performance, infectious disease, and our favourite field: synthetic biology.

Dr Jackson both created and managed the synthetic biology portfolio under the Living Foundries program, which focuses on the development of novel tools and molecules for synthetic biology and which has provided funding to groups such as Amyris for synthetic biology development. Dr. Jackson will be presented with the SynBioBeta Award for “Best U.S. Industry Enabler”.

Dr Christina Smolke

Dr Christina Smolke is currently an Associate Professor of Bioengineering at Stanford University. There her research focuses on a number of synthetic biology fields including the creation of RNA devices to turn cells into living, programmable sensors, as well as the engineering of microbes to produce pharmaceutical compounds such as opioids.

She is currently taking leave from Stanford to co-found and head Antheia, a new start-up firm. Antheia is a spin-off founded to commercialise the plant biosynthesis technologies developed by her group, using them to help provide cheaper and faster delivery of pharmaceuticals. For this work and her previous endeavours, Dr Smolke is being presented with the SynBioBeta Award for “Most Promising New Synthetic Biology Startup”.

The Rt Hon Lord David Willetts

The long career of our third recipient, The Rt Hon Lord David Willetts, has led to more successes and titles than we can easily fit into this article. As member of the British Conservative Party he held the constituency of Havant between 1992 and 2015 as a Member of Parliament, both in and out of government, with his last role being Minister for Universities and Science.

After stepping down from his role as MP he was created Baron Willets of Havant on October 16th, with a corresponding seat in the House of Lords. During his time in parliament he worked to promote synthetic biology as an investment target for the UK, going so far as to co-chair the Synthetic Biology Leadership Council. To thank him for this leadership, Baron Willetts will be receiving the SynBioBeta award for “Best UK Industry Enabler”.

All in all, quite the prestigious line-up for this session. We’re hoping you can all make it to hear from these luminaries at SynBioBeta SF, November 5th, 6pm.


Christopher Harrison

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