The Garden Archives - Page 2 of 3 - Revolution Bioengineering

Category Archives: The Garden

All about Revolution Bioengineering and their color-changing flowers.

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?

19 Jan

Nikolai’s advice for Entrepreneurs

Nikolais advice for entrepreneurs

I was asked for 7 points of advice for entrepreneurs by Startup Basecamp for their blog. In my time as an entrepreneur, I have read a lot of other startup advice that is very specific, or for advanced stages of business and glosses over the fundamentals. Fundamentals are everything. You win based on fundamentals, not on flea flickers and fumblerooskis.

Keira and I started up our consumer biotechnology company RevBio in 2013, and each of us has had a lot to learn in our transition from science/military/academia/normal life to being business people. But we have done it, and when reflecting on the key points to remember for success, it’s basically that list.

The 8th point that didn’t make the cut is to always make time for grapefruit cocktails.

That’s pretty important too.



07 Jan

Plant Blindness – Can’t see the forest

Do you suffer from planta ablepsia? Common symptoms include not spending enough time in wild places, being unable to identify what part of which plant generates the french fry, and thinking of plants as “biological wallpaper”

blog post plant blindness banana leaf A banana leaf – trillions of cells turning sunlight and carbon dioxide into a beautifully geometric wallpaper for your computer screen.

Plants are everywhere, but people tend to ignore them. As time spent in the woods becomes time spent in front of a screen, it’s easy to go through life without having to look closely at the green things around us. This has become known as plant blindness and it’s something that botanists, educators, and gardeners across the world are working to end.

blog post plant blindness allOne plant, many uses. A) Banana; B) Banana C) Banana D) Banana

We depend on plants not only for the food we eat, what we feed our animals, and the fibers we wear, but for their role in maintaining a living planet. Plants breathe with us, consuming carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. They purify water and release it into the atmosphere, influencing the water cycle. They provide habitat for animals and insects, and tie soil to the landscape, maintaining a healthy ecosystem capable of sustaining life.

“…people don’t understand that plants are absolutely integral to our survival and the survival of every other living thing on the planet. We could not live without them.” – Thomas A Block, Director Morris Hill Arboretum

Our understanding of these processes is not complete, neither within a plant nor on a global scale. Forests pull up to 30% of the carbon dioxide humans produce out of the air and into their timber – but we don’t know the best way to manage them to mitigate climate change. Botanical research and seed preservation face devastating budget cuts, weakening our ability to study biodiversity and improve conservation efforts. Even with growing interest in local farming and protecting the environment, there is a long way to go before plants are appreciated the way they need to be.

blog post plant blindness tree
A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. Plant, study and preserve for the next generation.

Plants are more than just background scenery – they have a critical role to play in our future. We hope our color-changing flower will ignite a new fascination with plants, inspiring people to take a second look at the tree in their backyard and the flowers in their garden.

Botanists battle ‘plant blindness’ with seeds of knowledge in the Philadelphia Post by V.A. Smith
29 Dec

Consumer Biotechnology

We love answering questions! Joshua E. asks What fields do you think consumer biotech can enter and what tools can be used to achieve these goals?

Hi Joshua,

Consumer biotechnology is just that – biotechnology made for you to use in your everyday life.

When people hear the word ‘biotechnology’ they think of scientists in white lab coats working for years on complex scientific problems.
blog post consumer biotechnology scientists
This is what Google thinks a scientist looks like. We suggest you visit Looks Like Science for some more diversity.

This means that unless you are interested in becoming one of those people in white lab coats, you often don’t have the opportunity to have hands on experience with ‘biotech’. It can seem like a mysterious process.

Computers started out a bit like this too – they weren’t available to the general public at first, and people reacted to them with skepticism. What could they possibly be good for?

“There is a world market for maybe 5 computers”
Thomas Watson, IBM Chairman, 1943

Today everyone owns multiple computers—tablets, laptops, cell phones, entertainment systems, etc. They have made a whole new world of connection and technology possible.

The interesting thing is that the turning point in computer innovation wasn’t just better/cheaper technology or the demonstrated benefit of a time-saving spreadsheet. Games played an important role. The accessibility and availability of the technology to add some fun and interest to the everyday person’s life is what made the computer exciting. And, it got people thinking about what else computers could do.

blog post consumer biotechnology Pong

This entertained a generation.

blog post consumer biotechnology pacman
Then this did.

blog post consumer biotechnology dragons

Then suddenly, dragons.

Today, fields like genetic engineering and synthetic biology share the fundamental goal of allowing us to engineer biological systems. Tools like CRISPR genome editing and mathematical models of biological systems allow us to develop new biotechnology with greater precision.

We’ve already done some great things with this – insulin, for example, comes from genetically engineered bacteria and improves the quality of life for millions of diabetics. Artemesinin (a powerful malaria drug) is now produced on an industrial scale in microbial bioreactors. These are important life-saving uses of biotechnology.

But this is not what will spur the same sort of creative innovation that has taken computer technology from four ton machines to the iPhone. To do that, we need people to have biotechnology in their hands. At Revolution Bio, we’re making Pong for the biotech world: Color-changing flowers. They’re beautiful, accessible, and something that everyone can appreciate.

That’s what consumer biotechnology is all about, making advanced biological science personal and fun. Like Pong, this is just the start. We think consumer biotechnology could have an impact in everything from the gardens we plant, the materials we use for building, the fabrics we wear, even the way you recycle.

It’s safe to say that we can’t predict the most amazing advances to come out of this movement. Who would have imagined Skyrim while playing PONG? We’re excited to be a part of this incredible new field and we’re looking forward to making consumer biotechnology a part of your life.

We love answering questions! Ask your question here

13 Dec

Wonder where that poinsettia came from?

Today is Poinsettia day!

This time of year, you probably have a poinsettia on your table, and maybe there’s more than one at work. In Mexico, they’d get to be 15 feet tall, but after the Christmas season in North America they’ll be lucky to be saved by that one person in the office with that green viney thing growing all the way around their cubicle (If you know the name of that plant, that’s you. You’re the one that saves the poinsettias).

Row after row of poinsettia flowers grown in Florida for the holiday season

Row after row of poinsettia flowers grown in Florida for the holiday season

We buy over 34 million of the plants each year – that’s nearly 150 million dollars! And these days they come in red, cream, hot pink, salmon, burgundy and combinations of the two! We got the chance to see these beautiful plants in person during our last visit to an enormous indoor plant grower in Florida. You can see the (almost mile long) shade house and the beautiful poinsettias within.

We put together a little infographic in honor of these flowers with the big holiday spirit. Enjoy!

05 Dec

Inspired by Biofabricate!

I couldn’t snag a ticket to Biofabricate 2014, but enjoyed following along with the conversation on Twitter throughout the day! The excitement was palpable & I was inspired to make the infographic below – I hope it helps you share the adventure of #growingthefuture. I’m looking forward to 2015 and a year full of beautiful biology (including color-changing flowers!) – K

What did you think of the conference?

01 Jul

Lessons learned from a business accelerator: contracts


A business accelerator is a fun and competitive (and crazy) experience.  You will definitely learn a lot over the course of one.  But remember, the accelerator itself is a business for the VC firm, exactly like your fledgling business.  It’s not a charity.  It’s not community service the VC firm does for the benefit of the community.  It only exists to make money.
So if you are lucky enough to have you and your business selected to participate in an accellerator– What does that mean?

It means you need to start fighting.


The VC firm thinks that your business has a decent chance to become a profitable company.  They think that their investment of $20,000 will yield returns of millions in a few years.  They think that their business accelerator program will give you the training and the opportunities to achieve that business success.  You might be surprised and flattered at this – we were.  We liked our cool little idea, we thought it was nice that someone else was willing to give us a chance.  We didn’t really take to heart that this was a business transaction where each side commits to making this a successful venture.

Our advice to you?  Make them put their commitment in writing.

When we were first selected for the program, we signed a letter of intent, a brief 1.5 page document about our responsibilities to the accelerator. The responsibilities of the accelerator to us were not documented here, and we expected to see them in the detailed contract which was forthcoming. This 7 page contract was more detailed—but only about the nature and type of shares that we would give them in exchange for their financial and material support. Very practical, and, from our limited experience, reasonable. After all, it makes sense that these guys would want to protect their investment.

However, we also needed to think about protecting our own investment. We were leaving jobs, moving overseas, and committing fully to a program we would be dependent on for the next three months.  Aside from the words ‘material support’, there was not another or further defined responsibility for the accelerator in the contract.  No mention of the mentors or training that would be provided, no description of the facilities, no outline of the opportunities they would provide. Under our current agreement, there are many ways that we can be in violation of the contract, but it is impossible to hold the accelerator accountable. We are entirely dependent on their sense of fairness and goodwill – a dangerous place to be as a new start up.

So, when you receive the contract, start asking questions.  Question yourself, your business partners, and question the accelerator. Identify your framework for success and express it confidently. If you require specific materials, facilities, mentoring, or consulting to be successful, verify that they can provide it and make them commit to providing it in writing before you sign.  If you feel the terms are unfavorable say so, and have the research at hand to back it up. Reading the contract start to finish isn’t enough.  You can read the whole thing, understand everything in it, and still not know what it means.  Instead, try reading a section, then restating that section out loud to your business partners and advisors in your own words.  You might see some obvious and trivially easy adjustments you can make to protect yourselves and your company.

Another note – absolutely everything is negotiable.


We negotiated. We agonized about it and spent hours drafting emails and worried that we’d be rejected from the program outright, but we shared our concerns.  And as a result, we reduced the equity exchanged for their investment by 30%.

Remember your position at the negotiating table if you get a contract like this.  They chose you.  They think your idea, your business, your team has a chance of hitting it big.  Their business depends on finding ideas and teams and businesses like yours, and they depend on you being a success.  You need to address items that are important to you and work out contract wording that makes you confident in this partnership. A good business partner will respond to your concerns, a bad one will dismiss them with “that’s not important.”

It may very well be that this is your only shot and you have to take it regardless of the terms – that’s fine.  Such is life.  But it never hurts to stand up for yourself. You will need that backbone to make it in the business world.