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The Genesis Machine


Drew Hessel

In this weeks episode of The Futurists we delve into the world of synthetic and programmable genetics with one of the worlds foremost experts, Dr. Andrew Hessel. We also discuss his latest book The Genesis Machine: Our Quest to Rewrite Life in the Age of Synthetic Biology and how computing advances that led to gene sequencing are now allowing us to think about editing genetics in the same way we program computers. What are the implications for humanity as this allows us to radically adapt our biology for new purposes and new futures? Join us to find out.

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this week on the futurists you know the mrna vaccines wereit wasn't just moderna it was biontech and others that had been working on this for years this was just an applicationthat really had the urgency to to really push it through into our you know the marketplace in our arms very quickly butyou know the real breakthrough there is that we went from manufacturing a vaccine in eggs or in in in the lab nowyour body becomes the manufacturing plant so to speak we're really just putting in the program you know to makespike protein covid spike protein in your body your body manufactures it andultimately produces the immune reaction to it which is how you get your your immunological defense[Music] welcome to the futurists i'm brett kingand with my co-host robert turcheck we delve into the future of humanity the future oftechnology and everything in between today we're going to dive into biology and what it means in terms offorecasting how we think about that in the future well this week we've got somebody on ourWelcome Andrew Hessel Biohacker & synthetic biology leadershow that i'm very thrilled to include a long time friend of mine and someone who inspires me personally because of hispassion to his particular domain in the future our guest this week is the biohacker andsynthetic biology leader andrew hassell andrew welcome to the show great to have you on the futurists great to see yourob how have you been i am cool too rightbio hacker i'm not most people don't call me a biohacker but i am definitely a hacker at heart umif futurist wasn't cool enough then you gotta buy a hacker in there as well well you know it really goes to one ofthe themes here which is that we're not just about people who are talking about the future we're interested in the people who are creating the future andinventing the future and making the future and that's certainly something that andrew's been doing for for as long asi've known which is more than 10 years you know when i first met you you were going around the country talking to high school students and teaching them how todo synthetic biology in their classrooms which blew my mind that was a real passion project for the timeyeah it still is i think like computing synthetic biology isreally an emerging uh is a field that's led by young people you know that just are coming in with acompletely different perspective or highly digital and just for open to learningand at the time you mentioned that it was important to get this information into the public domain you know where it could be used by everybody as opposed todominated by a handful of big you know say pharma or chemical companies what's your perspective on that today wellGenetic code is open sourcebiology is open source in the sense that all the code of biology which is written in dna is it's anexecutable code but it's completely open you can take any organism and get the codein a very straightforward way and we all run the same code so for me i just felt it was very importantthat that code remains as as open and transparent as possible because if it came under proprietary controli have no idea what that would mean for the you know for life on this planet you're using the term codeand kind of an analogy um i think where i think it's important for our audience to understand and when you're referringto code you're not talking about the ones and zeroes of digital software that define our digital universe you'reactually talking about the software that runs our biology our humanity and the natural world in other words theDNA a Programming Languageum the dna code the dna code but the dna code is digital it's just not it's basefour instead of base two so it's written in in molecular bits uh represented bythe letters a t g and c but it's a digital code so when i say coding an organism or dna code i'm really talkingabout a programming language and you believe that we can program biology the same way that we program acomputer uh very similar actually the the you you can think of the processors as beingdifferent uh with digital code it's it's an electronic processor with the withbiological code it's a cellular processor that's actually that's processing molecules but the conceptsactually are very similar and just a level stuff for the audience here by way of introduction we shouldtalk a little bit about your uh the things you're doing the things you've accomplished and and your book uhcongratulations you've written a book i know this has been a long time i know there it is the genesisNew book the Genesis Machine by Andrew Hesselmachine yeah fabulous so the genesis machine uh written by andrew hessel and co-authored or co-written with amy webbwho is also a notable futurist and probably a really fun person to write a book like that with yeah so congrats onthat that's a big deal thank you we want to talk about that do you want to talk about that process andrew how the bookcame about yeah so you know of course in the last couple years we've all been through thiswonderful pandemic most of what i'd been doing was really moving a startup company ihad to new york when everything got shut down in 2020 iwas just uh i was just focusing on home school and home enter and home improvement uh and i got a phone callout of the blue from from uh my speaker's agent who's who connected me with amy and amy had abook uh deal already in place for looking at crispr gene editingtechnology and she come to realize no this is bigger than just gene editing it's really about programming lifeso we connected and started writing the book cool tell us about the connection between crispr and synthetic biology andWhat is crispr it is a gene editing technologymaybe start with the definition of the two things well crispr is a gene editing technology essentially it's a tool it'sactually part of an ancient microbial immune system but it's a tool that allows us to precisely cut the dnamolecule in a specific place and to do manipulations there either leave a deletion or add some new code so it's ag it's basically a cut and paste technology for the dna molecule withWhats is synthetic biologysynthetic biology most of that editing process is moved into computer software we move codeblocks around using software tools and when we're finished we hit print and synthesize a new dna molecule so so itjust i i am a giant fan of synthetic biology because it makes genetic engineeringsomething you can do with a laptop rather than a lab so biology's moving from like a wet science with beakers andtest tubes and people in lab jackets towards information science or computational science yes it makes itmakes genetic engineering almost identical to software engineeringexcept you're programming a very different process with the cell obviously the the technology for beingsequencing genesable to sequence genes has advanced in parallel with computingbut um what would you say from a from a computing perspective or a scientificunderstanding perspective apart from your gene editing technologies likecrispr what are the biggest milestones we've had in synthetic biology welllet me just back up a little bit because you you just introduced a new term sequencing sequencing is is really aa translation process where we go from the chemical bits of information in thedna molecule and read out those chemical bits convert them into electronic bits that we can manipulate on a computerthat's that's really fundamental because you know dna is a programming language and there's like any language readingand writing and comprehension so reading really got an early start the human genome project and really advanced theediting and writing DNA codetechnology and made it very accessible the the problem is when you start to tryand edit and write re edit or write code with our earlier generation of tools the editingand writing process were all lab based and very manual and so the idea ofrecombinant dna or gene splicing technology was really like splicing filmyou had to work with the physical material you had to do cuts except with the dna molecule you're actually doingcuts with enzymatic scissors and enzymatic glue and you can writeanything you want kind of ransom note style but it's really hard and it takes a lot of time and and you have to doother experiments just to confirm the edits that you made actually worked when you start moving into the electronicthe world of synthetic biologyworld of synthetic biology all of that again is digitized it's not a computer just like we edit film and othermaterials today electronically and then you just print out a new dna molecule that's perfect on the way out so it justmakes it more accessible faster much more precise what are the breakthroughs with synbiowell it's everything that you're seeing in the genetic engineering world except that now it's done with better tools soit's new enzymes being developed it's new medicines most recently the mrnavaccines for covid those are built with synthetic biology but it's also new food stuffsit's new it's new industrial materials uh like like silketc so it's a very large application space opening up because the tools areMRNA vaccines enabled by synthetic biologybecoming easier to use let's talk a little bit about the mnra vaccines because um that was obviously agigantic win for humanity because the vaccine was developed in about a quarter of the time that it would typically taketo develop a vaccine and we were able to scale it up very fast so that was great uh during the pandemic but what i thinka lot of people don't realize is that moderna had been working on that particular technique for nearly a decade before that and so synthetic biology hasbeen kind of like a long dawn it's taken quite some time for it to reach a level of maturationwhere these processes can be industrialized and scaled up yeah you know it's actually in its thirddecade now so as a tool set so it's one of those you know it's like thoseovernight sensations that take 20 years um yeah it's been building up a body of expertise of practitioners of tools uhyou know that are really allowing this this work to be digitized so i look at it overall as digital biology and ofcourse anything that gets digitized starts off slow but gets faster better cheaper pretty quickly um you know themrna vaccines were it wasn't just moderna it was biontechand others that had been working on this for years this was just an application that reallyhad the urgency to to really push it through into our you know the marketplace in our arms very quickly butyou know the real breakthrough there is that we went from manufacturing a vaccine in eggs or in in in the lab nowyour body becomes the manufacturing plant so to speak we're really just putting in the program you know to makespike protein covid spike protein in your body your body manufactures it andultimately produces the immune reaction to it which is how you get your your immunological defensethat's a really important distinction and if you don't mind why don't you give us a little bit more color on that because i'm guessing that quite a fewpeople don't really understand how the nra vaccines workedum you know i know in the past for instance it's like a flu vaccine they'd have to develop those flu vaccines inlike millions and millions of eggs chicken eggs and then and then and then extract the vaccine from that thatprocess takes a long time because you've got to go through a biological cycle uh to do that so tell us about this newhe basic tenet of biology is dna to rna to proteinbreakthrough with mnra yeah well um the basically the the basic tenet ofbiology is dna to rna to protein there are there are only three core systems inthe living cell one is replication being able to duplicate dna transcription ismaking a working copy of that dna into a molecule that's very similar to dna called rna and that rna is used by amachine called the ribosome to actually make proteins and this is this is standard in all living cells so whatwhat mrna vaccines do is you write the mrna part which is like the working copyit's like the blueprint molecule you put it into a little lipid container when you inject it into yourarm it goes in that lipid container fuses with cells and delivers that mrnaprogram into the cell and the ribosomes in your cell starts to manufacture that protein in this case the spike proteinit's so it's really a wonderful way of quickly and temporarily programming your cells to make moleculeswhich is really fantastic and synthetic biology is used to make that mrnaprogram so the factory is literally the living cell inside of your body yepin a way isn't that kind of what a vaccine what a virus does uh it doesn't a virus kind of hijack a cell and thenturn it into a factory to reproduce more more of the virus exactly you can think of a virus as as ausb stick it's a nanoparticle like like the like the vaccines that were the mrna vaccinesand it's except it's a natural nanoparticle and it does two things it not only delivers a program but italso delivers an entire enough of a program to make more virus so it becomesa self-manufacturing a self-replicating uh usb stick the process on this andrewi you know i think it's very important to make this distinction because there's been a lot of debatearound the mrna i don't make this about the code vaccine in particular but all you're talking about here isusing the natural immune system computation platform or machinerytaking a message to produce this protein but it doesn't um it doesn't affect thethe dna itself right no and not at all in fact because we're not working with dna at all um we're just working withthe messenger rna which is the working copy kind of the blueprint it delivers that working copy the cell starts tomake the protein and that working copy dis degrades and goes in the garbage essentially so it's only a temporary uhreprogramming of the cell so apart from um like in this instanceproduction of the spike protein to give you immunity to covert uh what are some other applications thatthat you could think of in terms of mrna for some of the existing maladies thathumanity is afflicted with oh sure put me on the spot um no like basicallyanything that can be addressed through a biomolecule is within reach of this technologybasically anything that can be addressed through a biomolecule uh is is withinreach of this technology if you want it to be temporary so with with a gene therapy for example you might want apermanent change because there's a metabolic disorder but for example if you just need a if you just need aprotein-based medicine for a short time it could be something like insulin mrnais a potential way of delivering that program it could be that you just want to targetcancer cells with a particular protein that knocks them out so if you can build and if you can build a structure thatdelivers that message just to a cancer cell because half the problem with cancer is just targeting the right cellsthen you can deliver an mrna program to shut down that cancer cell that's just a couple of examples very coolhumane genomics is a company focused on reprogramming virusesand in fact that's one of the things that you're working on personally right so with the humane genomics uh that thatcompany is focused on on basically i don't know how to describe this but reprogramming vaccinesvaccine sorry that virus oh my goodness it's okayviruses but basically it's like viruses for good uh and that's a weird concept for most people so can you tell usexactly how that would work yeah so i i got bitten by the synthetic biology bug beforeit was even called synthetic biology and what i realized is what i'm actually fascinated by is genome engineering iwant to build genomes and and the smallest genomes to build are virus genomes they're they're really tinycompared to most cellular genomes and so i started looking at very early on what's the most useful thing i can dowith the virus that isn't already being done and it turned out they make a reallyoncolytics which developing cancer-fighting materials within that is a branch called oncolytic virologygood potential treatment for cancer there's a whole field of science called oncolytics which is basicallydeveloping uh cancer-fighting materials but there's a branch of that called oncolytic virologywhere you where you basically piggyback on the fact that cancer cells are kindof broken and can't defend themselves from viral infections that well and so ifigured well with synthetic biology which gives me the power to build a virus very precisely because i can build youknow the entire genome from scratch i could use that synthetic biology toolto make custom engineered viruses towards cancer and and that wasthat was just my mission for a long time and it turned into a startup calledhumane genomics which is uh i'm just an advisor to it now but it's it continues to operate in new york it's doing verywell developing artificial viruses built from scratch that target cancer cells uhin humans and you know we we're also it's called humane because we also figure that dogs will be an ab companiondogs the dogs we have in our home are going to actually lead the way to a lot of this personalized medicine becauseif you're making medicines for one person at a time you you you really wantto get the process down uh you know potentially not working onon people so we start um we start working with dogs and chimps and thingslike that that's that's i think dogs are actually the best example because they live with us we treat them like ourchildren and i my feeling was always when our when our when the dogs that in our homes get better cancer treatmentsthan we can get at the hospital then that'll that'll be kind of the the seedchange in in the pharma industry around cancer now definitely i think we need to talk about the ethics of this in thesecond part of the show but um no so uh crispr and talon and these sort of geneediting technologies have obviously made significant leaps in in recent timesum but you know um in terms of the computing platforms and things that that you're using how are theyconverging with uh you know gene editing in in particular well gene editing toolslike crispr also rely on the same synthetic biology tools to manufacture them and to program them so so it's allreally one large digital tool set that's building um the the important thingabout crispr technologies is if we need to make a change in a larger genome that we can't synthesize from scratch or it'sjust not feasible to synthesize from scratch crispr allows us to make a precise edit so it's great for doingmany genetic therapies today that that need a genetic treatmentthat um but it just isn't feasible to go and either write a whole virus or to go andreprogram the entire genome so it's a really powerful tool that's making it into the clinicbut again i think synthetic genomics just being able to write genomes from scratch is going to give crispr a realrun for the money particularly in the research lab and is that the sort of main mechanism you see moving forwardfor actual gene editing or gene therapy because it's it's you know the the thingthat we seem to be talking about with crispr right now is whether you know we can reliably do this at scale to to makethose permanent changes you talked about earlier well the main problem with crispr has been the concern ofoff-target effects because you're essentially editing a molecule in your inas many cells as you want to affect that change and sometimes these molecular editing systems will go and target thewrong piece of dna in the cell and if you target the wrong piece of dna then you have the potential you you might betrying to cure cancer but you might actually be generating a cancer or another genetic error sothat's the main concern but a lot of the work that they've been doing today has been making theseoff-target effects less and less likely to happen through through engineering but ultimately i just love the idea ofhaving the precise editing control that we get with digital tools i really love your analogy of like thevideo editing like splicing the tape together and now we can do that digitally it's a great analogy becauseobviously our accuracy and the ability for us to make convincing edits to davidvideos in improved dramatically with computing um advances and that's a great analogy tothink about in terms of the accuracy of of gene therapy all then we have toworry about is the systemic implications like what does flipping this gene or creating this protein doin terms of the you know the the overall system which we we definitely want to get into uhandrew uh let me let me just take us to break quickly here after the break um let's continue the conversation you'relistening to the futurist with brett king and robert turcheck we're interviewing andrew hessell um and we'llbe right back after this break welcome to breaking banks the number oneglobal fintech radio show and podcast i'm brett king and i'm jason henricks every week since2013 we explored the personalities startups innovators and industry players driving disruption in financial servicesfrom incumbents to unicorns and from cutting edge technology to the people using it to help create a moreinnovative inclusive and healthy financial future i'm jp nichols and thisis breaking bankswelcome back to the futurists i'm brett king we are talking to andrew hassellum the author of along with amy webb the genesis machine our quest to rewritelife in the age of synthetic biology so one of the the subjects andrew youtackle in the book is you know how do not know how to engineer um these uh living organisms umyou know which we're talking about as synthetic biology but um you know who who should be in chargeof this and what should be the rule set and um you know what are the risks uhto this uh you know just even enhancing human capabilities um and and thingsethical questions arising out of synthetic biologylike this that are potential outcomes you know the the ethical questions about humanity diverging either biologicallyor technologically from what a base human is um you know how do you how do you see ustackling that as a society um more broadly well i i think it's going to take a lotmore engagement than we have today with a broader group of individualsthis is really a technology that promises to touch every one of our lives because it's life technology so i thinka part of it is the uh just a recognition that the existing rules and regulatory systems that we putin place for the chemical pharma industry and then the bio pharma industry and just bioagricultural systems i think these all need to be revisited becausethis is completely different it's like we're going from mainframe computers to you know to the personal computerbecause this is really about making the technologies much more accessible so this is going to this is going to need aa re-imagining of all the architectures to really allow it to run free and thenyou know we we as for the ethics i'm not a trained emphasis what i love about ethics is itbrings people to the table to discuss what they think is right and wrong ingeneral i think that we most people try and do good things with technology butthat's not universal there's if there is a way to do somethingif there's a way to do something it's going to happen good and bad so i think that in generalBiosecurity needs updatingmost people try to do the right thing but we need systems in place that can really find those those uh those folksthose groups those sometimes nation states that are doing things thatthat we consider just wrong um and these need to be operating 24 7 365. so to me the nextgeneration of biosecurity and even needs to look a lot more like the cybersecurity systems we put in places society digitized antibiotic virussoftware that we're running now now where we're stacking yeah i i think it's an important pointyou make the analogy and you to computer programming computer science uh we're engineering biology in a way that'sanalogous and one of the things you pointed out is that there's we're now able to toreplicate that software engineering cycle um by which i mean we can we can design build and testum and i want you to talk a little bit about that because i think some of the people listening might have this scary idea in mind of like oh somebodydeveloped something in a lab and then it runs a muck and it gets loose and you know that that kind of sci-fihorror story that we've heard so many times but this test cycle is important for people to understand that that isyou're not going to just freely release some kind of bio creature into the wildpossible you know in other words you're not going to just freely release some kind of bio creatureinto the wild no in fact getting this biotech in general is one of the most highly regulatedindustries in the world and trying to get anything out into the wild at least as a company is uh is extremelydifficult where where there might be a growing concern though is as these tools become more accessiblethat people that aren't necessarily companies and bound by the conventions andand requirements of a corporate structure might just start hacking the systems and doing things that justbecause you know they're being creative i have become actually personallyquite um supportive of the idea of really creating a large buffer space betweenthe natural world of all organisms plants animals microbesand the world that we can potentially engineer with synthetic biology most ofthe things that we build in in the lab stay in controlled environments bioreactors again a lab is a controlledenvironment but the i'm i i would if anything like to see thatget hardened in the future so that synthetic biology can really run free and be creative and explore in a safesandbox and we have and we increase the recognitionthat we need to uh protect and preserve the the natural world and the organismsthere because for for for too long we've just we've just treated the natural world as as a human domain we thinknothing of just plowing down a rain forest and and putting up you know palm oil plantationswe so i think it's it's it's two sides there we need we need to let the biology runfree and keep it very open and transparent and share that information and at the same time we have to have greater respect for the natural worldand and really think about when those two systems intersect you know one one area i i'm sort oftrying to think about in respect to this from a computing platform isum is how we model the human system in terms of all of its complexities itwasn't that long ago that we used to talk about all of these uh you know umgenes that were junk junk dna right and now we're finding out well it's not junk dna there's there's functions in therewhen is it that you see that we will be able to accurately sort of model the way the human operating system worksand then be able to make you know um like understand systemically how that works andbe more precise in understanding how tweaking one gene or producing oneprotein will affect the system the short version is we have a lot more work to do um because we still you know like manypeople have used uh geospatial systems like google earth which is you know really modeling one ball in space andand we keep layering on more and more information to make it incredibly useful like gpswe don't have that even for a single cell today and then there are groups doing whole cell modeling but you knowwe are made of 50 trillion cells so without having a whole cell model even for a simple cellit's really limiting our ability to do modeling on more complex systems like humans we certainly have models of someof our of our immune system and our circulatory system and other systems but they are by no means complete becausewe're not down to first principles so let's just say it's early days in bioengineering but we're you knowanything that's digital starts to come together faster better cheaper yeah a lot of quite a lot of this conversationso far has been about the application in the human body and speculating about that but as you point out that mighttake some time and there's certainly tons of regulatory reasons why that process will go slow and that's probablya lot of the activity in synthetic biology has been on non-human organisms microorganismsadvisable but quite a lot of the activity in synthetic biology has been on non-human organisms microorganisms things that weunderstand very very well because we can actually map the entire genome they're smaller they're easier to work with theyreplicate faster and so forth so these are non-human uses of synthetic biologyand actually these non-human uses cover an awful lot of industry and i think that's important for us to zoom out alittle bit at this point you know when we talk about healthcare healthcare represents about 20 of the us economy soit's big it's a really really big part of the u.s economy and of course there are many applications inside ofhealthcare for improving human health and maybe synthetic biology will start to take a piece of that 20 percentbut let's bear in mind that many other industries are derived from natural resources forinstance most of our energy is derived from natural processes or from biology from the past and so there's a wholebiological element to energy the same is true with food of course food in all agriculturebut also things like apparel we don't really tend to think about the fact that you know the clothes that we wear andthe shoes and our feet there are also tend to be derived from biology and so there'sa lot of other applications and these industries comprise together more than a third of the entire economyand so you can start to see the vast dimensions uh of for the application ofthe vast dimensions uh of for the application of synthetic biologysynthetic biology in manufacturing and in particular manufacturing substitutes and those substitutes can becarbon friendly uh they can be located closer to the source or to the place where it's going to be distributed sothey have a smaller carbon footprint sometimes they make things that are biodegradable in ways so they can be like a substitute for plastic orsomething that we don't want to create more of tell me a little bit more andrew in your perspective about howthat works how do you harness something like an algae or some other microorganism to produce like actuallyto manufacture these synthetic products well i think that you just gave a great overview rubber on really some of thepotential for this because yay no but it but it's true like biology is what creates us but it's whatsustains us um and so just but when you really break it down what we're really talking abouthere is using cells to make the uh the stuff that we need for humanity tothrive and and the thing that i love about synthetic biology particularly as we start going into full genomeengineering is now we have the tools to be able to program those cells with precision soone of the first cells to be to be made from scratch with synthetic biology wellthe first cell was done in 2010 by by a scientist by the name of craig venter but he used a cell called mycoplasmawhich is very has a very small genome but isn't really widely known jump ahead about a decade and and aresearcher by the name of of jason chin synthesized the e coli bacterium fromscratch it has a genome size of about 4 million bits but e coliis is one of the most studied organisms on the planet and it's a really incredible manufacturer of differentproteins plus it has a generation time of 15 to 20 minutes so it's very easy togrow you know lots and lots of cells because it reproduces it makes bunnies look slow you know sothe ability there to reprogram the cell gives us the ability to start manufacturing new materials new proteins with high precision and optimize them for different purposesanyway the so but having the ability there to reprogram the celleven if it's a simple cell gives us the ability to start manufacturing new materials new proteinsuh etc etc with high precision and to tune and optimize them for different purposes the one thing about e colithough is it's is it requires sugars to grow and you know if you move to a morecomplex cell like an algae it's it can use sunlight as the energy source formanufacturing and that's and and again it can make thousands of different compounds as wellso learning to reprogram algae can radically change the way we start manufacturing many different things andit's all powered by sunlight directly or another example if you just one momentis yeast yeast is already widely used it's been used harnessed by humans for10 000 years and and an international team of scientists has been working to synthesize and boot upthe yeast genome and they're this close well that's impressive what will happenif yeast is uh synthesized and we can reprogram it what can we do with that yeast is yeast uh as a cell is aeukaryote which means it's closer to our you and me than it is to bacteria um soit's about a billion years more evolved than than the e coli bacterium um andit's just an incredible manufacturing source now we use it today you know for you know forfor right for for bread making beer you know but but yeah for bread and beer are thecommon applications but in industrial uses it produces enzymes it producesdifferent proteins it produces just a vast array of compounds and as we canbuild and tune the yeast genome with precision now we can direct you knowmost of its energy into producing the the the compounds that we want so we're going to see yeast become uh pretty mucha global manufacturing platform for for biomaterialsit's important for people listening to understand that this is also about optimizing process and generating lesswaste and in some cases recycling waste there's some speculation for instance that city waste is going to become morevaluable because it'll start to be used as a raw material that could be kind ofcomposted by these microorganisms i think the other element of this is interesting issynthetic biology has many big applications that can in help us with sustainabilitywe have some tools to you know particularly in the current crisis with ukrainethinking about how we get off dependency on oil and you know that's not just interms of you know gas or petroleum to put in your vehicle but more importantly things like plastic production andthings like that this is really where synthetic biology would seem to have huge application inhelping us with sustainability as well what are your thoughts on that andrew i think biology is the only provablesustainable technology it literally self-assembles from fromcommon elements carbon hydrogen nitrogen etc um and it can be broken downanything made by biology can be broken down by biology which is very important it's only the the some of the compoundsand polymers that we've created chemically that the microbes haven't evolved to break down that are causingus problems but there's a great example of enzymes that were isolated fromlandfills that could break down plastic bottles that have now been taken into the lab studied and and tuned andoptimized and now you can digest a plastic bottle in a matter of days which is absolutelySynthetic biology is going to help humanity thrive and be sustainable but they come with some risksincredible so so we we i i believe that these technologies are absolutely goingto help humanity thrive and be sustainable but they come with some risks because as biology becomes easierto program you get what you select for you get what you train your ai systems for and so foranything good that we imagine in new medicine there's also the potential for something nefarious which is why theentire architecture needs to be hardened in the same way that we had to harden computernetworks this would appear to you know lend something that we've been talking aboutregulating synthetic biologyincreasingly when we have these conversations is global regulation this is not really something you couldregulate on a on a national basis because you can have a bad actor inanother country that could uh you know circumvent that so is there a sort of a growing globalregulatory movement around bioethics or around the synthetic biology not yetlike right now um part of part of what i've been communicating is biosecurityneeds to be put under national defense as a start and not just under healthor agricultural regulation it needs to be part of of national defense and and i think there's a good reason for thatyou know we were essentially just invaded by by a virus globally um so anational defense is a start uh which turns into better public health and just being able to defend ourselves againstinfectious disease but we truly need an international body to come together on this because weall run the same operating system and microbes really don't care about humanstructures like borders or you know nations etc etc so they just go wherepeople go with respect to defense you know the u.s defense department has been on this for almost a decade uh the our darpa defenseadvanced research projects agency introduced an office of biology as technology nearly a decade ago uh forthis very reason you know and arpa's mission is to look at everything as a potential threat or as a potential way to protect people uh protect soldiers inparticular but then broadly they disseminate that information into the into the mainstream uh so i think thatthat's understood but maybe not as widely as as we might hope um one of the things i'm trying to driveat here though is that there's also for every downside effect there's also tremendous potential for upside effectsyou know if you consider the last century uh one of the big themes of the 20th century was finding synthetic umreplacing petrochemical plastics with biodegradable engineered organic productsproduced materials to replace uh organic materials things that were naturally produced you know for example silk waswas replaced by synthetic fabrics like nylon um in the 1920s 1940s in that eraand typically those synthetics are derived from petroleum but andrew is the point you just made like humans are able to synthesize this stuffbut we don't do it in a way that nature can degrade quite easily and so we end up with a lot of garbage laying around we're starting to accumulate hugeamounts of plastic so i'm excited about the idea that companies like genomatica can takesugar and start to generate their own version of nylon or some substitutes substitute ingredients for nylonthat are biodegradable as well and there's also something happening like that with other kinds of polymers likebiosynthetic synthesized chitin which is another element that can be used to replace plasticsbecause we're starting to accumulate a lot of plastic in you know in landfill but also in the oceanwhat's the prospect for you know some sort of um synthetic organism that can devour ocean-goingplastic is that is that a pipe dream or is that a possibility i i i think because it's inthe ocean which is uh a natural environment i don't thinkpeople would be generally supportive of filling it with engineered organisms you might be able to build a processingplant but i think really part of what we have to do is just stop polluting um soa big a big part of that is just learning how to think in in completely new ways around sustainability and andit's it's essentially mass accounting the the reason why a plastic bottle isused um is because it's just so cheap because we don't do full ownership of ofthe process you know in a closed loop so what what i find really inspiring todayis that you know we've got a new space race going um because we're finallygetting the cheap delivery to orbit by more and more companies which is which means that you have tostart thinking in closed systems because space is a space station for example is truly aclosed system you have to account for everything going in and out so i think that the opening up of space is reallygoing to drive the development of new sustainability technologies that we can apply on earththat can really resolve a lot of the waste issues that we have today if we can start to deploy them at scaleamazing well this has been a fun conversation and we could go on all day long we didn't really get into transgenics iwanted to get into that but next time andrew we'll have to have you back for that there's a lot more to say andrewAndrew Hessel & Amy Webb's new book the Genesis Machinehussell you're a wealth of information so much interesting stuff to share with us about synthetic biology and your newbook the genesis machine which we've both read and have enjoyed and we recommend to our audienceandrew folks listening to this want to find out more what's the best place for them to reach out to you or to readabout your work well you know the first by the book it really contains a lot ofinformation and ideas and scenarios and it's it's a book about science but it'sit's not for the scientist it's really meant so that anyone can pick it up and read it and yeah that's one of theadvantages of working with amy webb she writes in a way that makes it easy to understand accessible it's the easythe future today institutepathway to mastering the information biology and the next step after that is amy webb runs something called thefuture today institute where she puts out future trend reports she just uhjust launched this the 2022 reports at south by southwest just a few days ago if you go to herwebsite all of those reports are open source and freely available so and she'sgot a synthetic biology report that's amazing if you're younger and you're interestedigem the international genetically engineered machines organisationin doing this as as as a profession i point people to igem the internationalgenetically engineered machines organization that has really become the premierepoint for for young entrepreneurs and students to learn about this technology and if you're older and thinking of acareer switch and you're doing anything digital today there is a place for youin the emerging synthetic biology industry which is growing incredibly fast and yet it's it's still early daysum i this has the potential to grow to be an industry that grows faster than even thecomputing industry because for the computing industry to advance you know moore's law being the famous you knowpace of the of the computing industry you have to go and build new technologies you have to build new fabsyou have to design new chips with cells they're just waiting for us to write new programs so it really hasthe potential to advance at the speed of software so so keep an eye on that's amazing youknow yeah so it it we we don't know the limits of the cellbecause it's a universal machine but it will be our ability to write geneticsoftware that ultimately dictates the pace of creation so i think we're on the cusp of a cambrian explosion oforganisms this century that is like unprecedented amazing now you know you think of allthe applications uh you know de-extinction and all of those things it just it blows my mind andrew hassellthank you for joining us on the futurists if you're listening uh to the show uh be aware we are a new podcast uhyou know we're a few episodes in now but please make sure to tell your friends about the podcast give us a five starrating on itunes that's how people can find out about the podcast as well and mention us on social media we'd reallyappreciate that but we will be back with you next week and we will see youin the future [Music] well that's it for the futurists thisweek if you like the show we sure hope you did please subscribe and share it with people in your community and don'tforget to leave us a 5 star review that really helps other people find the showand you can ping us anytime on instagram and twitter at futurist podcastfor the folks that you'd like to see on the show or the questions you'd like us to ask thanks for joining and as always we'llsee you in the future [Music]

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