Rewriting Life

Bio Programming

Juan Enriquez’s company creates new organisms.

The next step after reading genetic code is writing it. In June, biotech pioneers J. Craig Venter and Hamilton Smith launched Synthetic Genomics, a Rockville, MD-based “synthetic biology” startup aimed at creating custom-made micro-organisms. The new company’s president is Juan Enriquez, former director of Harvard Business School’s Life Sciences Project and CEO of the Wellesley, MA, investment partnership Biotechonomy, which funds Synthetic Genomics.

How is what you’re doing different from conventional genetic engineering?
Genetic engineering mostly has been about taking a few genes, shooting them at random at cells, and seeing if anything sticks. What we’re doing is very different – synthesizing entirely new DNA strands with the aim of controlling a particular life function. We then insert those into cells and have them execute that function.

What kinds of functions?
We’ve made a decision to focus on big problems with global impact, initially energy and global warming. Specifically, we’re looking at how to optimize microorganisms that generate ethanol and hydrogen. But there’s potential application for any carbon-based industry, including chemicals, carbon sequestration, and pollution remediation. To the extent that you can program how individual cells function, you can change global industries on a very large scale.

This story is part of our October 2005 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

Even so, critics will take one look and say, “Frankencells!”
We’re working to look at the ethical issues. You don’t want to put something on the market and then have people start asking all these questions. One way of looking at this is it’s the next stage in the Green Revolution. Or alternatively it’s the next stage of the Industrial Revolution. I think it’s both.

How does Synthetic Genomics plan to make money?
We’re not trying to take over the world. We’re a bleeding-edge technology company that will make its money by licensing. But I expect you’ll see us announcing partnerships with some very large companies. 

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.
Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all five of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium

$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

You've read of free articles this month.