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09 Mar

The ladies moving Revolution Bio forward – International Women’s Day

As part of International Women’s Day, we wanted to introduce you to some of the incredible women working to bring together art and science in and creating a new space for conversation about biotechnology.

Each of these international women have brought a unique skill set that makes our color-changing flowers a truly vibrant, living work of art. The theme of International Women’s Day is #MakeItHappen – it takes all of us to effect change. We hope you’ll join us in supporting women working in science and art by contributing to our ongoing storey bio

Professor Helen Storey’s work champions a cultural hybrid model of art which brings together fashion and science. In 1997, she launched her seminal work detailing the first 1000 hours of human life, Primitive Streak. To date, the installation has been seen by over 5 million people in 7 countries.

Since then, Prof. Storey and her science collaborators have created five other world renowned arts/science projects. Shewas made a Royal Designer to Industry in 2014 by the Royal Society of Arts and her curiosity with the beauty and possibilities of science continues to inspire her work. The Living Dress will incorporate Revolution Bioengineering’s color changing flowers and illustrate how we can harness nature to re-connect us back to the impact humans have on our natural world and how the two seemingly unconnected worlds of fashion and science can enlighten and come together.

quattrocchio bio

Dr. Francesca Margherita Quattrocchio began her plant biology work in maize, moving to petunias to analyze the behavior of corn genetic elements when placed in a new context. In 1990, Quattrochio started her PhD project on regulatory genes controlling pigment biosynthesis in petunia petals. Soon after obtaining her PhD, her interests moved to the control of pH homeostasis in the vacuole: the cellular compartment where the pigments are stored. She revealed an entirely new mechanism by which plant cells hyper-acidify internal compartments and regulate ions traffic – Her discoveries are at the heart of our petunia flowers!

She studied Biology at the Sapienza University of Rome (Italy) and graduated in 1983. After a fellowship of the Italian National Research Council in Milan (Italy) to study the promoter structure and regulation of maize reserve protein genes, she obtained a short-term EMBO fellowship. Thereafter, she received a Marie Curie fellowship and joined the Genetics research group at VU University Amsterdam. This year she joins the University of Amsterdam.

Brian Bio

Jenny Dyck Brian received her PhD in Biology and Society from Arizona State University. While at ASU, she worked in the Center for Biology and Society and the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes. Her dissertation, which was supported by funding from the National Science Foundation and a PEO Scholars Award, investigated the role of bioethics committees within for-profit private sector bioscience companies. The project focuses on 3 case studies: the Ethics Advisory Board at Advanced Cell Technology, the Ethics and Public Policy Board at SmithKlineBeecham and the Bioethics Committee at Eli Lilly.

Prior to joining Barrett, The Honors College, she was an Assistant Professor of Bioethics at the Asian University for Women in Chittagong, Bangladesh, where she taught bioethics and science policy courses to students from 12 different countries. At the AUW, she also worked with 9 student research assistants on projects focusing on organ selling and trafficking in South Asia, and the role of for-profit corporations in the development of synthetic biology, genetic testing and geo-engineering.

keira bio

Keira Havens grew up in Hawaii where she was fascinated by flowers, bugs, and the ocean. After receiving her Bachelor’s in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2004, she accepted a commission in the United States Air Force. She left active duty to pursue a degree in a synthetic biology laboratory and received her M.S. from Colorado State University in 2014.

As part of her academic work on detector plants she encountered an interesting paradox – the same people who disliked agricultural GMOs liked the idea of this applied biotechnology. It was biotechnology that they could see a benefit in, a biotechnology that amazed and delighted. Keira wanted to bring more wonder into the world through science, and so she founded Revolution Bioengineering with colleague Nikolai Braun. Their goal: to make biotechnology beautiful, starting with flowers that change color throughout the day.

Ladies, we are thrilled to be working with you & look forward to making some beautiful biotechnology. Let’s inspire the next generation of female scientists, artists, and thinkers!

02 Mar

Visit to IndieBio

Today Revolution Bio headed to San Francisco for a week of hectic meetings.  Unfortunately, the adventure started on the flights out. In Denver I dealt with lengthy airplane de-icing followed by a fog bank that halted all takeoffs. My two hour layover in Phoenix turned into a 2 minute sprint across the airport to make my connection.

Keira dealt with a snowstorm in Cleveland. Six inches of snow showed up overnight, and whatever time she had allocated to drive to the airport was insufficient given the conditions. She missed her first flight, the second was cancelled, and then she finally made it onto a third.

Cailfornia poppy

Cailfornia poppy, edited by @dailylaurel

But now she gets in at 10PM and in Oakland, not noon when I got in, so I had some time to kill. I emailed Ryan Bethencourt to see if I could go kill time at Berkeley Biolabs and get some computer things done, he suggested I head to Indie Bio to do that. So I did.

Indie bio is in an “up and coming” area of San Francisco. But after a winter in Colorado, I was delighted to see a California poppy blooming in the scrub patch right beside my car.

IndieBio Labs

IndieBio Labs

Ryan gave me a tour of the IndieBio space, and it is enormous. They have conference rooms, a large desk/computer area, and an actual lab. The lab is built out such that it looks like real science can be accomplished.

There are tissue culture rooms, hardware building rooms, food science dedicated rooms, and of course a lounge with a beer refrigerator.

I’m looking forwards to seeing what comes out of this bio accelerator. They definitely have the infrastructure for success, so now let’s see what those teams can do.

What kind of flowers are these?

Bonus flowers edited by @DailyLaurel

25 Feb

I was a judge at Thought for Food

This is like no other conference you've ever been to.

The Thought For Food (TFF)Challenge is focused on a critical global and humanitarian issue—feeding our growing planet. Our worldwide population of 7 billion is projected to grow to 9.6 billion people by 2050. We will have to produce more food in the next 50 years than all the history of humanity combined—not just because there are more total mouths to feed, but because people moving into the middle class are clamoring for more protein and better diets. Current forecasts of productivity increases show that we will miss our mark.

The future of humanity is literally at stake. This is superhero territory

The TFF summit brought together some of the brightest young minds committed to solving the global problem of feeding 9.6 billion people by 2050. They asked me and five other people involved in business, science, economics, and technology to judge the finalists and pick winners from amongst the best of the best.

The best of the best like to dance.

The best of the best like to dance.

We heard 10 inspiring and impeccably polished pitches by the participating teams about how their innovation will help feed the world by 2050. Each group was energetic, sharp, and clearly communicated what their innovation was, how it fit into larger infrastructure, and how it would make a real difference in the lives of people all over the world.

We judges were a diverse group with different backgrounds and expertise, but I thought Sara Farley of GKI and Gavin Armstrong of Lucky Iron Fish were the clear MVPs of the judging panel. Sara knows developing countries, knows how they work, knows problems and opportunities, and asked really insightful questions of each team. Gavin, with a strong business background and experience growing a company in challenging marketplaces asked questions that got to the foundation of the teams’ business.

Up on stage with judge Sara Farley at the Thought for Food summit, sharing my thoughts on the teams - such incredible energy!  Photo credit: Miguel Quesada, Thought for Food

Up on stage with judge Sara Farley at the Thought for Food summit, sharing my thoughts on the teams – such incredible energy! Photo credit: Miguel Quesada, Thought for Food

The insights that Sarah and Gavin brought was instrumental for the panel in picking the best team for the win– not that it was easy. We ended up delaying the whole conference because it was so challenging for us to pick the first and second place amongst the 10 teams.

In the end, we picked two second places, and wished we could have picked more. The runners-up were FoPo , a company that takes food before the point of spoilage and freeze dries it, thereby conserving it’s nutritional value and essentially giving it a limitless shelflife, and Aahaar- a middleman-eliminating solution for farmers and markets to deliver refrigerated food faster to where it’s needed.

Here they are, the Grand Prize winner, Innovision, and runners up, Aahaar and FoPo. Click through to see all the teams!

Here they are, the Grand Prize winner, Innovision, and runners up, Aahaar and FoPo. Click through to see all the teams!

The grand prize went to Innovision, an elegant and affordable food storage technology that keeps food fresh longer. Their innovation tackled food waste between the farm and the consumer making agriculture more efficient in an area of the world that is needs it most. This team of bright students from the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh absolutely has what it takes to deliver this idea first to Bangladesh, and then the rest of the world.

I talked with several of the teams afterwards, and they all had a great outlook on their path forward – these people are going to solve problems, and they won’t let one missed win get in their way. The TFF Global Summit brought together existing players in the agriculture with the brilliant young people that will change the way we feed the world.

Keep your eyes on TFF and the teams involved past and present. That’s where the superheroes are going to come from.

Why was a group making color-changing flowers invited to talk at a food secuirty conference? Click to find out!

24 Feb

Agricultural Biotechnology: RevBio at Thought for Food

Revolution Bio has been trying to start an inclusive conversation about biotechnology – something the agriculture world hasn’t been particularly good at. So when we were invited to talk about synthetic biology at Thought for Food (TFF), we had to take some time to think about how we fit into the big picture.

The TFF Challenge and Global Summit is the SxSW of food security, with morning dance parties, inspirational speakers, and the positive message that you can make a difference. It’s a lot of fun, but the underlying focus is the fact that we will need more food – a lot more – in the next 50 years. The global food system is plagued with inefficient agricultural practices, problems with food storage and distribution resulting in one big issue —waste. We waste potential and we waste food in vast quantities.

US farmers can grow five times as much corn on the same amount of land as African farmers.

US farmers can grow five times as much corn on the same amount of land as African farmers.

In the USA, the King of Corn, we yield about 160 bushels per acre. Africa yields about 30. Lack of training, tools, and techniques results in small-holders in developing nations leaving potential agricultural yields on the table.We don’t need expensive technology to help these farmers– simple low-tech and low-cost approaches like agricultural education will drive enormous gains in farming efficiency.

The Gates Foundation advocates for all of these things – better seeds, better tools, better education – in a recent call to action.

And then there is the waste of food–when food is grown and it is simply thrown away. Between storage, shipping, and packaging, the developing world wastes 1/3 of their food between the farmer and the consumer. In developed worlds, logistics is very efficient, but consumers are not. In developed countries – me, you, most people reading this – wastes 1/3 of the food they bring home.
So how did Revolution fit into this picture? How can biotechnology make a difference here?

Synthetic biology is a technology of promise and potential, but for most people it’s an unknown. And in the context of our food, that unknown comes with a lot of questions about health, safety and necessity. So in our talk at TFF, we started there. We didn’t talk about the world-saving benefits of agricultural biotechnology. Instead, we started a discussion to clear the air, remove the bogeymen and start speaking honestly about what biotechnology can and cannot do.

This model, developed by Harvest Choice lets you look at potential yeild increases with various technologies. Insect protection throughout the developing world yeilds an 11% increase.  Compare that to "no-till"(using a method of weed control other than tilling) - that increases yeild by 67%.  Try it yourself  by clicking here.

This model, developed by Harvest Choice lets you look at potential yeild increases with various technologies. Insect protection throughout the developing world yields an 11% increase. “No-till”(using a method of weed control other than tilling) – that increases yeild by 67%. Try it yourself.

Biotechnology cannot save the world by itself. It functions within a system that needs better logistics, new protein sources, and integrated social approaches to nutrition. In some contexts agricultural biotechnology can be a powerful tool, in others, conventional breeding, or a different solution all together might be the answer. It’s up to us to figure out how to thoughtfully integrate this technology with the many others that will build a food secure future. That conversation needs to involve everyone.

We did our part to expand that discussion at TFF with some color changing magic. Who are you talking about biotechnology with?

Want to know more about TFF? Nikolai was on the team judging panel! Click to learn about the winning teams & the future of food.

23 Feb

Alliance for Beautiful Biotechnology

Welcome to the Alliance for Beautiful Biotechnology! We’ve made a commitment to beautiful biotechnology – biotechnology that inspires, uplifts, and delights. We’re starting with color changing flowers, and these great organizations have decided to join us. Interested in becoming part of the alliance? Send us an email or find us on twitter & facebook.

Fascination of Plants is all about celebrating the green things that grow around us. They want you to take a second look at plants - that's why they're sponsoring a contest to name our color changing flower!

Fascination of Plants is sponsoring a contest to name our color changing flower! They’re all about celebrating the green things that grow around us – our color changing flowers will help people slow down and take a second look.

IDT is inspired by Picasso's quote, "Everything you can imagine is real", and they've been kind enough to support our vision with synthesis credits & media coverage!

IDT is inspired by Picasso’s quote, “Everything you can imagine is real”, and they’ve been kind enough to support our vision with synthesis credits & media coverage!

Ball Horticultural is providing germplasm deep coloration an great growth habit.

Ball Horticultural is providing germplasm with deep coloration and great growth habit. Translation: We start with great garden plants.

Mebiol makes next generation cultivation materials - hydrogels that can support plants with 80% less water.  They're donating this cool material to the art installation.

Mebiol makes next generation cultivation materials – hydrogels that can support plants with 80% less water. They’re donating this cool material to the art installation.

30 Jan

Thursday evening at Denver Biolabs

Denver Biolabs is a DIY bio group that got started by RJ Duran and Heather Underwood. Apparently there was a Boulder Biohacker group that got organized, had one meeting and then never another. Before all the enthusiasm and ambition for Front Range DIY bio dissipated, RJ collected the Boulder mailing list and he and Heather started Denver Biolabs at inWorks on the CU Denver campus.


CU Denver has an exciting new space called inWorks that is committed to purposeful and intentional problem solving.  Heather Underwood is the Associate Director of inWorks, and is excited to see the space grow.  The facility is brand new, and has so much potential for where it can go and what can happen, and Heather is leading the charge to develop a strong biological component at inWorks.  It’s a beautiful space with 3d printers, machine tools, and lots of equipment I can’t even identify that is good for building, prototyping, doing electronics, and who knows what else.  Right now the community can participate in workshops and short courses, and as they grow they will be figuring out a good system for utilizing the space and equipment for everyone who wants to and has been properly trained to use it.


I gave a talk on Thursday (29 Jan 2015) at inWorks to the Denver Biolabs group about the work we are doing at Revolution Bio making beautiful consumer biotechnology products: color-changing flowers. The audience had a mix of technical (not biology) backgrounds, as well as Ph.Ds in plant molecular biology, so the talk was just an informal and fun discussion about plant pigments and generalized strategies to change flower color. The audience was engaged and there were lots of great questions about both the science of flower color, and questions about regulations and business.

I’m glad RJ and Heather got things rolling for the DIY bio scene in Colorado, and I’m happy to be a part of that group. However, after my parking ticket last night, I don’t think I’m going to try and park anywhere near inWorks, and just plan on a nice walk.

Get involved with Denver Biolabs on Meetup or on Facebook.

Find out more about inWorks at CU Denver at their website.

29 Jan

SynBio LEAP – building the future

SynBio LEAP: building the future of synthetic biology
SynBio LEAP: building the future of synthetic biology

SynBio LEAP: building the future of synthetic biology

I have been selected as one of 2015’s Synthetic Biology LEAP Fellows!

LEAP is designed to develop leaders from the ranks of communicators, scientists, ethicists, industry and do-it-yourselfers invested in the promise, potential, and impact of synthetic biology. I’m pleased to see folks I know as fellow LEAP Fellows—people like Mike Koeris from Sample 6, who is focusing on how to make the future safer, Camille Delebeque from SynBio Consulting, who thinks deeply about complicated questions of policy and science, and Edward Perello who is working to integrate the computer and the wetlab.

I’m also excited to meet those synthetic biology people that I haven’t yet connected with. Scientists like Nicola Patron for example, who in addition to her research has made a brilliant kit for plant transformation via Addgene. Scientist Lalitha Sundaram, who has a passion for biosensors and how it can impact the most poorly served communities. Using biotechnology to improve life across the globe is a passion she shares with Bill Gates, who focuses on agricultural biotechnology in his latest letter.

Crop Life Graphic

The world in plants. Click to visit Crop Life’s Biotech Plant Development page for an exceptionally well done description of plant biotechnology

Another Fellow, Cameron Keys, has spent years focusing on the impact of collaboration between social and natural scientists. I’m fascinated to hear what he’s learned about the way this partnership both shapes the actual scientific experiments and the way we share them. After the January NAS interface conference on communicating complex technologies like GMOs, I think we need as much of this collaboration as we can get.

thefuture Meet all the 2015 SynBio LEAP fellows! They’ve all got amazing stories.

While I can’t list everyone here, I encourage you to take to learn more about the 2015 SynBio LEAP Fellows. The participants are more than just our jobs or our research. We are interested in the impact of synthetic biology, both as a tool that can begin to be of use now, and more importantly, a tool that can allow us to develop a society that is quite literally sustainable – one where we grow the things we need for the quality of life we want. LEAP fellows are working towards a world where that is possible, and that means both building scientific tools and building a strong ethical foundation for the future.

So what is my vision? I see a beautiful future. Biotechnology is more than a lofty intellectual concept, it is more than a grand plan for some distant future, and it is certainly not limited to large companies with massive corporate empires. Biotechnology can be beautiful. I’m really pleased to be able to bring my vision to LEAP next week & work on building a more beautiful future with these incredible people!

27 Jan

Alstroemerias for Valentine’s Day

Roses are so 20th century– surprise your sweetheart with alstroemerias for Valentine’s Day


Alstroemerias (Peruvian Lily) are dazzling flowers with large showy blooms where tri-color and quad-color blooms are common. Native to various regions in South America, they are extensively cultivated in the equitorial flower growing regions of the world for markets in the USA, Europe, Russia, and Japan.


Alsotomerias have multiple blooms per stem and one of the longest vase lives of all cut flowers– it makes for amazing long-lived arrangements on Valentine’s Day, or any other time of year.

alstro vase

Besides the usual issues with all types of floriculture, alstormerias have one addition frustration for growers: slugs love them! Alstromerias are monocots that send up new shoots from the roots. The brand new shoots that emerge from the soil are irresistible to slugs.


Can breeding solve the slug herbivory problem? Can biotechnology? What are some natural and existing slug-proofing solutions that other plants have?

23 Jan

Bioengineering Dragons, Part II – Design

In Part I we talked about the rationale for bioengineering a dragon.

After a healthy and instructive discussion about your dragon needs, it turns out that you mainly want one because it’s cool (and maybe you want to impress your friends a little). Louboutin, Ferrari, Cartier, they are all products that exist primarily to meet this need. In this case, the product is a living creature and I think it is important to reiterate that we must have an ongoing and continuous conversation about the ethics involved.

It also turns out you are ludicrously wealthy and able to fund this project in perpetuity because that’s approximately how long it’s going to take to make you a dragon.

Cuddly doesn’t always mean fluffy. A 1912 drawing of a lap dragon by R. Leinweber


Bioengineering multicellular organisms is expensive. It’s time consuming. It can be a huge investment of resources and people, and very often the way you thought biology worked is only the most surface layer of function, adding years on to your research timeline. Our color-changing flowers, for example, were designed on a solid foundation of basic research spanning 30 years, a known pathway, and team of petunia color experts, and a lot of that planning involved ways to overcome known unknowns. We needed a clear idea about what we wanted to achieve before we could develop a practical technical plan to accomplish it.

So, what do you want your dragon to look like?

  • Does the dragon need wings? Scales? Teeth?
  • Does it have to breathe fire?
  • Does the dragon need four legs or can it get by with two?
  • How big should the dragon be?

There is an exceptional flash game by Wyndbain where you can build your dragon with wings, claws, and 8 pages (!) of horn styles. However it has a terrible ad that plays when I embed it, so you’ll have to click here to use it.

Dragons are mythical creatures so we have a pretty blank slate. We can focus on the features we need to meet our goals — We don’t need to achieve full Game of Thrones functionality in the first iteration. You’re not Daenerys. If you had a full grown firebreathing dragon, at some point it would just set fire to your house and eat the neighbor kid.

Let’s starting by engineering something that looks like a dragon – something small, something that smells of sulfur once in a while. I’m thinking that the primary requirements are wings and a scaled body. Jointed wings – even if they can’t be used to fly – and a body covered in scales are pretty unmistakeable as a dragon hallmark. Everything else can be negotiated.

Disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments.