This video provides an explanation of Protein A and its importance to modern bioprocessing. Learn More
We have personal computing, why not personal biotech? That's the question biologist Ellen Jorgensen and her colleagues asked themselves before opening Genspace, a nonprofit DIYbio lab in Brooklyn devoted to citizen science, where amateurs can go and tinker with biotechnology. Far from being a sinister Frankenstein's lab (as some imagined it), Genspace offers a long list of fun, creative and practical uses for DIYbio.
Each of our bodies is utterly unique, which is a lovely thought until it comes to treating an illness -- when every body reacts differently, often unpredictably, to standard treatment. Tissue engineer Nina Tandon talks about a possible solution: Using pluripotent stem cells to make personalized models of organs on which to test new drugs and treatments, and storing them on computer chips. (Call it extremely personalized medicine.)
Calling them "our bodies' own repair kits," Susan Solomon advocates research using lab-grown stem cells. By growing individual pluripotent stem cell lines, her team creates testbeds that could accelerate research into curing diseases -- and perhaps lead to individualized treatment, targeted not just to a particular disease but a particular person.
Geneticist Jennifer Doudna co-invented a groundbreaking new technology for editing genes, called CRISPR-Cas9. The tool allows scientists to make precise edits to DNA strands, which could lead to treatments for genetic diseases … but could also be used to create so-called "designer babies." Doudna reviews how CRISPR-Cas9 works — and asks the scientific community to pause and discuss the ethics of this new tool.
As the world's population grows and the effects of climate change come into sharper relief, we'll have to feed more people using less arable land. Molecular biologist Jill Farrant studies a rare phenomenon that may help: "resurrection plants" — super-resilient plants that seemingly come back from the dead. Could they hold promise for growing food in our coming hotter, drier world?
Are human genes patentable? Back in 2005, when Tania Simoncelli first contemplated this complex question, US patent law said they were — which meant patent holders had the right to stop anyone from sequencing, testing or even looking at a patented gene. Troubled by the way this law both harmed patients and created a barrier to biomedical innovation, Simoncelli and her colleagues at the ACLU challenged it. In this riveting talk, hear the story of how they took a case everybody told them they would lose all the way to the Supreme Court.
What if we could grow delicious, nutrient-dense food, indoors anywhere in the world? Caleb Harper, director of the Open Agriculture Initiative at the MIT Media Lab, wants to change the food system by connecting growers with technology. Get to know Harper's "food computers" and catch a glimpse of what the future of farming might look like.
Secrets, disease and beauty are all written in the human genome, the complete set of genetic instructions needed to build a human being. Now, as scientist and entrepreneur Riccardo Sabatini shows us, we have the power to read this complex code, predicting things like height, eye color, age and even facial structure — all from a vial of blood. And soon, Sabatini says, our new understanding of the genome will allow us to personalize treatments for diseases like cancer. We have the power to change life as we know it. How will we use it?
CRISPR gene drives allow scientists to change sequences of DNA and guarantee that the resulting edited genetic trait is inherited by future generations, opening up the possibility of altering entire species forever. More than anything, this technology has led to questions: How will this new power affect humanity? What are we going to use it to change? Are we gods now? Join journalist Jennifer Kahn as she ponders these questions and shares a potentially powerful application of gene drives: the development of disease-resistant mosquitoes that could knock out malaria and Zika.
What if we could find cancerous tumors years before they can harm us — without expensive screening facilities or even steady electricity? Physician, bioengineer and entrepreneur Sangeeta Bhatia leads a multidisciplinary lab that searches for novel ways to understand, diagnose and treat human disease. Her target: the two-thirds of deaths due to cancer that she says are fully preventable. With remarkable clarity, she breaks down complex nanoparticle science and shares her dream for a radical new cancer test that could save millions of lives.
Andrew Pelling is a biohacker, and nature is his hardware. His favorite materials are the simplest ones (and oftentimes he finds them in the garbage). Building on the cellulose structure that gives an apple its shape, he "grows" lifelike human ears, pioneering a process that might someday be used to repair body parts safely and cheaply. And he has some even wilder ideas to share ... "What I'm really curious about is if one day it will be possible to repair, rebuild and augment our own bodies with stuff we make in the kitchen," he says.
Neuroengineer Ed Boyden wants to know how the tiny biomolecules in our brains generate emotions, thoughts and feelings — and he wants to find the molecular changes that lead to disorders like epilepsy and Alzheimer's. Rather than magnify these invisible structures with a microscope, he wondered: What if we physically enlarge them and make them easier to see? Learn how the same polymers used to make baby diapers swell could be a key to better understanding our brains.
From improving vaccines to modifying crops to solving crimes, DNA technology has transformed our world. Now, for the first time in history, anyone can experiment with DNA at home, in their kitchen, using a device smaller than a shoebox. We are living in a personal DNA revolution, says biotech entrepreneur Sebastian Kraves, where the secrets buried in DNA are yours to find.
What do you get when you combine the strongest materials from the plant world with the most elastic ones from the insect kingdom? Super-performing materials that might transform ... everything. Nanobiotechnologist Oded Shoseyov walks us through examples of amazing materials found throughout nature, in everything from cat fleas to sequoia trees, and shows the creative ways his team is harnessing them in everything from sports shoes to medical implants.
Should we bring back the wooly mammoth? Or edit a human embryo? Or wipe out an entire species that we consider harmful? The genome-editing technology CRISPR has made extraordinary questions like these legitimate — but how does it work? Scientist and community lab advocate Ellen Jorgensen is on a mission to explain the myths and realities of CRISPR, hype-free, to the non-scientists among us.
We can evolve bacteria, plants and animals -- futurist Juan Enriquez asks: Is it ethical to evolve the human body? In a visionary talk that ranges from medieval prosthetics to present day neuroengineering and genetics, Enriquez sorts out the ethics associated with evolving humans and imagines the ways we'll have to transform our own bodies if we hope to explore and live in places other than Earth.
Creating genetically modified children is no longer a science fiction fantasy; it's a likely future scenario. Biologist Paul Knoepfler estimates that within fifteen years, scientists could use the gene editing technology CRISPR to make certain "upgrades" to human embryos -- from altering physical appearances to eliminating the risk of auto-immune diseases. In this thought-provoking talk, Knoepfler readies us for the coming designer baby revolution and its very personal, and unforeseeable, consequences.
What if every home had an early-warning cancer detection system? Researcher Joshua Smith is developing a nanobiotechnology "cancer alarm" that scans for traces of disease in the form of special biomarkers called exosomes. In this forward-thinking talk, he shares his dream for how we might revolutionize cancer detection and, ultimately, save lives.
Behold the microscopic jungle in and around you: tiny organisms living on your cheeks, under your sofa and in the soil in your backyard. We have an adversarial relationship with these microbes -- we sanitize, exterminate and disinfect them -- but according to microbiologist Anne Madden, they're sources of new technologies and medicines waiting to be discovered. These microscopic alchemists aren't gross, Madden says -- they're the future.
Biologist Dan Gibson edits and programs DNA, just like coders program a computer. But his "code" creates life, giving scientists the power to convert digital information into biological material like proteins and vaccines. Now he's on to a new project: "biological transportation," which holds the promise of beaming new medicines across the globe over the internet. Learn more about how this technology could change the way we respond to disease outbreaks and enable us to download personalized prescriptions in our homes.
Viruses have a bad reputation -- but some of them could one day save your life, says biotech entrepreneur Alexander Belcredi. In this fascinating talk, he introduces us to phages, naturally-occurring viruses that hunt and kill harmful bacteria with deadly precision, and shows how these once-forgotten organisms could provide new hope against the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
Every cell that's ever lived has been the result of the four-letter genetic alphabet: A, T, C and G -- the basic units of DNA. But now that's changed. In a visionary talk, synthetic biologist Floyd E. Romesberg introduces us to the first living organisms created with six-letter DNA -- the four natural letters plus two new man-made ones, X and Y -- and explores how this breakthrough could challenge our basic understanding of nature's design.
Gene-editing tools like CRISPR enable us to program life at its most fundamental level. But this raises some pressing questions: If we can generate new species from scratch, what should we build? Should we redesign humanity as we know it? Juan Enriquez forecasts the possible futures of genetic editing, exploring the immense uncertainty and opportunity of this next frontier.
Plastics advocate Jeannette Garcia's accidental invention of a super-strong and fully biodegradable polymer could make today's environmental curse tomorrow's sustainable answer. The implications? Recyclable airplanes, dissolvable water bottles and dramatically diminished landfills. Learn More