Andrew Hessel's Discussion of Genetic Engineering's Possibilities Will Warp Your Brain

Friday, June 10, 2016

Andrew Hessel's Discussion of Genetic Engineering's Possibilities Will Warp Your Brain


Recently Andrew Hessel presented a tremendous keynote address at the Congress On the Future of Engineering Software on the state-of-the-art in genetic engineering and what the future of biotechnology might bring. This is must-watch material.

In his keynote address at the recent Congress On the Future of Engineering Software (COFES) conference, the former co-chair of bioinformatics and biotechnology at Singularity University, Andrew Hessel presented the current state of biotechnology and what lays beyond in the not-too-distant future.

In his talk titled, “Virus Engineering and Beyond” (available below), Hessel, now with Autodesk as a research scientist, talked about the programming of living things. He believes that we are now advancing from reading genetic code to writing it. This means that we can design tools specific for living organisms and prototype the processes to bring these designs into the real world.

"Now that we have this foundation in genomics we can start to think about writing code."
As Hessel explains, the exponential nature of genetic engineering technology. "This is the golden age of sequence, and it is only going to keep going," he states."Computer technology moved pretty fast, but DNA sequencing has broken every record."

More than just a futurist on the subject, Hessel is taking a leading role in bringing about the writing of genetic code as part of the leadership of the recently announced Human Genome Project-write initiative. The project aims to build a human genome from the ground up. "Now that we have this foundation in genomics we can start to think about writing code," says Hessel.

Hessel describes how viruses can be the simplest way to make big changes in healthcare and genomics. He makes fighting cancer sound very simple with the idea of viral engineering, which encompasses using software to design and make viruses — and 3D print them.

Looking ahead, Hessel says that as biotechnology tools continue to get cheaper, it will get weirder as well. He describes how researchers are now modifying yeast to produce beer with nearly any gene including creating medical beer and caffeinated beer as well.

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Genomics breakthroughs also may dramatically extend our life spans. Hessel points to a recent study where scientists were able to modify cells in mice to essentially commit suicide as they became too old, thereby keeping the overall organism healthier. The results were mice that lived over 20% longer than average.

Continuing on Hessel predicts that real life Eldon Tyrell's and J.S. Sebastian's that will push forward engineering that blends silicon and carbon. The corporate and open-source versions portrayed in Blade Runner will be reality claims Hessel.

Hessel also points to Alec Ross's book, The Industries of the Future, which states that, "The last trillion-dollar industry was built on a code of 1s and 0s. The next will be built on our own genetic code."

Hessel’s work extends CAD and 3D printing into biology, a vast design space that is largely unexplored. Hessel says that cells are the ultimate 3D printers; they can be programmed to produce millions of compounds, including medicines, foods, or fuels—or used as ink in 3D printers.

Hessel is a futurist and catalyst in biological technologies, helping industry, academics, and authorities better understand the changes ahead in life science. He is a Distinguished Researcher with Autodesk Inc.’s Bio/Nano Programmable Matter group, based out of San Francisco. He is also the co-founder of the Pink Army Cooperative, the world’s first cooperative biotechnology company, which is aiming to make open source viral therapies for cancer.

We are sure you will agree that the talk is inspiring and Hessler's enthusiasm is contagious.


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