Blog Archives - Revolution Bioengineering

Category Archives: Blog

03 Apr

21 more days of color changing flowers!

Flowers, finally!

Flowers, finally!

Crocus are popping up, daffodils are everywhere, and gardeners are venturing out to look at their plots. It’s time to start thinking about which annuals you’re going to plant!

We’ve extended our crowdfunding campaign til Apr 23 to make sure everyone has a chance to pre-order the color changing petunia. And, we’ve updated the crowdfunding site with some new images and descriptions of the prizes. Check it out and go get your flower!

02 Apr

From color-changing flowers to deer-resistant tulips

Spring is here! Your tulips might just be poking out of the ground – or they might have already been eaten by deer.

But what if you could buy deer-resistant tulips?

Deer eating tulipsRevolution Bioengineering would love to make that happen. They are plant scientists, they have a passion for flowers and have enough ideas to fill a whole new garden. However, tulips can take five to seven years to mature, and that’s a long time to develop a product for a new company. So instead they’ve picked a quicker project: Color changing flowers.

In collaboration with scientists in the Netherlands and New York, RevBio is bringing petunias that change color to the garden in 2017. Their first flower goes from white to red when you share a beer with it – think of it as drinking buddy!

Our team is looking to the garden community to get these flowers into the ground with an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign. You can pre-order your color-changing flower and jumpstart development of other varieties like their next design, a petunia that goes from pink to blue and back again, using the plant’s internal clock to change colors every 12 hours.

color change flowersThat’s only the beginning for RevBio. CEO Keira Havens shares “Plants have incredible networks that they use to navigate their changing environment. We can work with these designs to breed all sorts of amazing flowers with new colors, scents, and patterns.” COO Nikolai Braun adds “In addition to aesthetics, we’d like to develop plants that use their resources more efficiently, and perform more robustly in the garden. I’m from Colorado and every year it snows in the middle of May – I’d love to be able to plant annuals in April and have them survive that last storm.”

02 Apr

Happy April!


Geemo can't detect other GMOs - just itself

Geemo can’t detect other GMOs – just itself

Hope you had a great April 1!  It seems like the world is back to normal now, but if you’re like me you probably spend a little too much time playing Google maps Pacman and wishing that Tesla’s parking ticket avoiding cars were available for sale.

Our April Fools joke, Geemo the GMO detector, got some interesting attention too. To come up with Geemo, we just looked at our color-changing flower in a new way: it’s engineered to turn purple. Therefore, when it turns purple, you know there’s a GMO around… Geemo!

We got the idea when a woman at SxSW suggested that we bioengineer a GMO detector.  The conversation started out pleasant, but once she learned that we were doing GMO work, her whole mood changed, she became visibly uncomfortable, and she made a comment as she walked away along the lines that “we need to create a plant that can detect GMOs and will turn a putrid brown when it encounters one.” That gave us a chuckle– A GMO plant that can detect GMOs.  Delightfully absurd for an April fools prank.

It turns out that a lot of people are interested in a GMO detector. People want information, and they want to understand how technology impacts them. We hope we’ve been able to do this at RevBio by communicating clearly and starting conversations – Geemo or not, our color changing flower is a pretty cool innovation.


27 Mar

Bay Area flower walk

15 Mar

Seize Control of Success: Making Goals Work for You

BradHofmannWe have a great guest post from Brad Hofmann, founder of Head First.  Brad has melded his extensive professional expertise in counseling psychiatry and university-level basketball and baseball coaching to develop an exciting program of mental preparation and performance coaching for all aspects of life- business, parenting, group dynamics, etc.  He shared with us some of his thoughts on goal setting related to the business world.


Many people have goals, but the way they organize and/or approach those goals can be inefficient or even counter-productive.  The good news is that a few simple tools can help you formalize your goals and keep your focus on goal achievement.*

First off, keep in mind two types of goals:

Result goals are end points — what people often think of when they set goals.

Example: If you are giving a sales presentation, your result goal would likely be to make the sale.

Process goals are the steps that you decide you must take to accomplish the result goal.


Your process goals for the sales presentation might be:

  • to research your potential buyer and his/her company thoroughly prior to the presentation
  • to set up a relevant demonstration of your product
  • to utilize breathing and relaxation techniques to help you stay calm and focused so you project confidence during your presentation.

smart goal setting concept

(Note: These are rudimentary examples.  If I were working with this person, I would likely suggest these preliminary goals be turned into SMART goals –Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.)

Sometimes, even people who have a strong grasp of and focus on their result goals have only a vague understanding and/or focus on process goals, which can be their downfall.

Your day-to-day focus should be on your process goals rather than your result goals.  Process goals focus on your actions (which are completely under your control), rather than the results (which often are not).

Example: You do control your research, your demonstration, and your breathing and relaxation.

You do not control whether the client has the money for a purchase (or whether their boss decides she wants to buy from her brother-in-law instead of you) and so you do not have complete control over whether your presentation leads to a sale.

Many people judge their success or failure solely on the end results and thereby lose out on the satisfaction and confidence that can arise from process goal victories.

Example: if you gave a good, relevant demonstration and projected confidence by staying calm and focused, you should celebrate your own success even if the end result of this presentation was not a sale (this will help you in the next presentation).

Focusing on process goals lets you measure your success based on your own actions (i.e., achievement of process goals) rather than evaluating yourself solely on end results or the opinion of others.  Taking control over your own success vs. failure can make you more resilient when positive end results are not immediate (as is often the case in a new venture).


In addition, when you focus primarily on result goals, you are being future oriented (results lie in the future).  Unfortunately, fear also lurks in the future. Having a future-based orientation can bring fear, especially fear of failure, into play.  [If you think about being anxious or fearful, it is often caused by concern about what is going to happen next.  What if the plane crashes or what if I totally bomb on this presentation?]  Fear can severely reduce your effectiveness (wasted time worrying instead of getting things done, wasted energy….) and it can make you less likely to take on a challenge.

Example: You are so focused on the fear of a failing sales presentation that you have trouble getting your preparation research started or you postpone the presentation to avoid potential failure.

Focusing on process goals instead helps you keep your focus on your actions, which occur in the present.  The “zone”, which is where you should strive to be working, is found in the present.  By focusing on process goals, and staying in the present, you give yourself the greatest likelihood of getting into the “zone”.

I don’t want to leave you with the idea that results and result goals are not important.  They absolutely are.  To maximize your success, the key is to set specific times to review progress toward a desired result goal so that you can assess whether you have the right process goals in place.  In general, focus should remain on process goals aside from these specific, pre-determined times for review of result goals.


* The work of Harvey Dorfman has had a major influence on my views of goals.  Although much of Dorfman’s written work on goal setting involves goal setting for athletes, I have found that many of the concepts he discusses are applicable to other types of performance (work, school, social, etc.).

10 Mar

A visit with artist Tom Varani

Tom Varani is an amazingly talented artist from Denver that has created an amazing print in support of our beautiful biology crowdfunding campaign.

I had heard about Tom many years ago through my network of friends, but I only met him in 2013 at his sister’s wedding where he had created a massive multi-panel mural of sunflowers–large enough to fill an entire wall of the reception hall.

Tom Varani's beautiful herd of elephants click to enlarge!

Tom Varani’s beautiful herd of elephants
Click to enlarge!

Tom recently invited me down to the opening night of a brand new gallery in Denver called Green Spaces Gallery. Green Spaces is an office co-working space that has a cavernous meeting/event area, and they recently decided to fill the walls of that space with art. Tom, his wife Andrea Pilner (also super talented artist!) are in the first group of artists to be featured at gallery.

On display were some of Tom’s elephant herd. Tom has painted quite a few elephants over the last several years, and each of them are enormous, intricately detailed, and stunning. He wants to save elephants from the needless butcher resulting from the ivory trade, and is involved with some causes to support that end.

But what I was really down there to see was his sketchbook. In order that everybody can start a new conversation on biotechnology, even if they are from countries where we won’t be able to ship petunias due to biotechnology regulations, I asked Tom to help us out with a custom piece of artwork.

tom sketchbook

Tom’s sketchbook– “wildtype” petunias on the left, evolution into mechanical petunias on the right
Click to enlarge– It’s beautiful!

About a year ago I had seen some other sketches he had created of whimsical mechanical insects made entirely of gears and levers and beautiful scrolly ironwork wings. So to celebrate our project I asked him to use the same kind of imaginative thinking to create a custom print for our crowdfunding campaign of a mechanical petunia.

I got a photo of two pages of his sketchbook where he started out just doing a study of petunia flowers and shapes from horticultural images and descriptions. Then he got to the point where he had a bunch of salty language in regards to my ridiculous request for a mechanical petunia. And then inspiration hit him.

Tom did a test print of his carved linoleum block Click to enlarge!

Tom did a test print of his carved linoleum block
Click to enlarge!

Tom just emailed a test print off the linoleum block he carved. This is an amazing piece of work, and at $125 is an absolute bargain to own a Tom Varani handmade print.

Support beautiful biology and pick up Tom’s print today. You can start a new conversation on biotechnology right your own home.

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!

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 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.