Hi ,

Check out the highlights of day 3 of SynBioBeta 2024, written by our writers, Embriette Hyde, Katia Tarasava, and Kostas Vavitsas.

From Konstantinos Vavitsas

SynbioBeta's final day doesn’t feel like a goodbye but like a “see you later.” This later has a date, as SynbioBeta returns to San Jose on May 5-8, 2025! Registrations are open, and I am looking forward to an even livelier, larger, and filled with exciting new technologies meeting next year.

The day started with Alex Rives from Evolutionary Scale, who presented how we can train language models in the three billion old languages of life. Proteins have the potential to address many of today’s challenges, and machine learning can discern how nature uses patterns to solve structure and function problems. “If we run the process of evolution again, we will get a new subset of proteins, maybe with new functions,” he said.

Alex Rives

The effort to decode life’s design principles was also the topic of Patrick Hsu’s from Arc Institute talk, this time focusing on using AI to study genomics. A cell’s complexity is several orders of magnitude higher than that of a genome, but the genome contains all the information needed to guide the cell’s functionality. Using machine learning on bacterial databases, Hsu and his colleagues can now predict essential genes, design CRISPR tools, study multi-gene interactions, and create the biotechnology tools of the future!

Patrick Hsu


Startups aim for exits, and one way to achieve them is via a successful acquisition. Erin Kim from Erin Kim Consulting moderated a very informative panel with Steve Weiss from Grey Heron, Rocky Graziose from Estee Lauder, and Suveen Sahib—SynbioBeta 2024 Rising Star award recipient—from K18. K18 was recently acquired by Unilever, and Sahib explained the reasons they decided to engage in this arrangement: great fit, reach to a large market, access to larger technological capabilities, and mission alignment. Weiss explained that it can often be intimidating for a smaller company to approach an established player in their field. “It helps if the bigger company is clear about the terms, timelines, and process of the interaction,” he added. Graziose recommended that both parties try to put themselves in each other’s shoes and understand where synergies can be made. As for the perfect time to start an engagement, Graziose mentioned that it’s never too early to engage, but the expectations should be aligned.

Erin Kim, session moderator and Consumer Products Track Chair


Jaclyn Greimann from Beckman Coulter Life Sciences presented their acoustic liquid handler and how their automation solutions can enable optimized synthetic biology workflows. “Data quality cannot be compromised, and time cannot be bought,” she emphasized.

The morning session concluded with a fireside chat on the application potential of AI in biotechnology. Anna Marie Wagner from Ginkgo Bioworks and Rory Kelleher from NVIDIA introduced the concept of an AI foundry for biology. Startups and individual labs wouldn’t need to invest in acquiring their own computing resources but rely on centralized facilities, trained on multitudes of big data sets, and use AI as a service. Biology is complex, and data is extremely important but scarce. But advances in computing, the generation of new generative AI tools, and the explosion in startups and innovators in this space can drop costs and democratize bioengineering to solve the world’s problems!

Anna Marie Wagner and Rory Kelleher



From Katia Tarasava

Mary Lou Jepsen, Founder of Openwater, delivered an incredible keynote presentation about breakthrough light- and sound-emitting devices for treating diseases from severe depression to cancer. Turns out, it is possible to kill cancer cells with ultrasound: malignant cells have an unusually large nucleus, which means that the right frequency of sound can specifically target those cells. These revolutionary devices could save thousands of lives if we can figure out how to get them to market faster and at a reduced cost. Jensen believes the key to that is flipping the development model from a vertically integrated to a horizontal one, where researchers contribute data and insights through an open-access mechanism. Openwater has recently raised $54 million toward that goal.

Mary Lou Jepsen 


Next up, an Australian delegation hosted a fireside chat on building the biomanufacturing ecosystem in the land Down Under. The Australian government and private sector are investing heavily in synbio infrastructure. For instance, the Australian Research Council (ARC) has funded Training Centres, Development Hubs, and Centres of Excellence that support a vibrant synthetic biology innovation network. That investment is paying off and helping hit impressive biomanufacturing milestones. As an example, Michele Stansfield, Co-founder & CEO of Cauldron, shared that her company has achieved protein production at an impressively low cost of $9 per kilo.

The annual SynBioBeta Awards ceremony honored Suveen Sahib of K18 Hair with the Rising Star Award. Tara Karimi, co-founder and CSO of Cemvita received the Climate Industry Leader Award. Caitlin Frazier, Executive Director of the National Security Commission on Emerging Biotechnology, received the SynBioBeta Impact Award. The Pioneer Award went to KAIST Distinguished Professor Sung Yup Lee.

SynBioBeta Award Winners Tara Karimi & Suveen Sahib


During the Lightening Talks session, Alinta Furnell discussed how her company Synbiote is breaking the bioplastics ceiling. Taci Pereira covered bioprinting and 3D tissue culture technologies developed by Systemic Bio. Martin Borch Jensen, CSO of Gordian Biotechnology, covered gene therapy for complex diseases like osteoarthritis.

Shannon Hall, the CEO and Co-Founder of Pow.Bio, moderated a panel discussion on what it’s going to take to win in synbio, where the panelists shared the lessons they learned in scaling up businesses. The advice from John Nicols, Founder & CEO of Organicols, was to cultivate agility and establish rigorous decision-making processes. Richard Kenny, Managing Partner at Hawkwood Biotech Partners, is a big fan of building Gantt charts for meeting commercialization goals. Ali Wing, CEO of Oobli, firmly believes in focusing on the science without forgetting about consumer needs.

Biomanufacturing scale-up Panel: (Left to right) Track Chair Shannon Hall, Michael Tai, Ali Wing, Richard Kenny, and John Nicols.

From Embriette Hyde

Having attended women’s luncheons at past SynBioBeta Conferences, I was really looking forward to the women’s luncheon today. True to my expectations, this one didn’t disappoint. 

After a few minutes of networking with other women over lunch, the attendees were treated to an amazing conversation between Y Combinator partner Surbhi Sarna, Faber Futures founder and CEO Natsai Chieza, and Elise Houren, Partner at Build Collective. 

One fabulous piece of advice from these amazing women is that if you walk into a room assuming everyone there is against you, you’ll be robbed of the mental space to concentrate on and do the job you walked into the room to do. The panelists also reminded us that women as a collective must stop letting others decide what “having it all means” and define that for ourselves, bringing the YOU back into the equation.

After lunch, I hit the main stage, where the challenges faced by the industry when informing regulatory decisions for genetically engineered organisms were discussed by Nik Evitt, VP of Operations at Switch Bioworks, John Marken, postdoctoral fellow at Caltech, Yonatan Chemla, postdoctoral fellow at MIT in Chris Voigt’s lab, and Hannah Boardman, Director of Tech & Innovative Regulation at the U.K.’s ministerial Department of Science, Innovation, and Technology (DSIT). 

It became clear as the discussion progressed that one of the biggest issues preventing solid, informed policies is the lack of a good sound and shared knowledge base, as Marken outlined rather compellingly. This can make huge strides in enabling clear and effective interactions with regulators, another critical need, according to Evitt. The compelling idea for companies to be more open around sharing their science and technology not just with regulators but also with the general public, rather than simply adhering to the traditional “it works, trust us” narrative, was also introduced as a way to help make the regulatory landscape less challenging.

But genetic engineering on our planet isn’t the only way to impact the health and functionality of humans and other organisms. Synthetic biology has made significant contributions to our understanding of how microgravity impacts living systems and how we must navigate that variable when developing agricultural and medicinal practices for life off-earth. In their breakout session, Savi Glowe, CEO of BioAstra, Barbara Belvisi of Interstellar Lab, Neil Lamb, President of HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, Olivia Gámez Holzhaus, CEO of Rhodium Scientific, and Erika Alden DeBenedictis, PI at the Francis Crick Institute, discussed how they’re working to bring biotech to space.

One of the most compelling approaches is that taken by Rhodium Scientific: standardizing science in space (something that we still struggle with all too often down here on Earth). During this work, an interesting observation has been made: microorganisms in space are more efficient than those used in bioreactors down here on Earth. So of course, the team at Rhodium is working on reverse engineering the system to improve efficiencies here. Similar observations and research efforts have been made and are ongoing around seeds and plants—both at Rhodium and in other organizations, such as HudsonAlpha.

Translating these incredible findings into products is a big challenge, however, and something that BioAstra is hard at work to tackle. Leveraging an n of 12 multiomics datasets (the largest human multiomics data collection in existence), they’re applying precision medicine tech and approaches here on Earth to explore how drugs may be metabolized in space.

“Using synthetic biology to do things in space is like a match made in heaven,” said DeBenedictis, exploring the idea of using biotech to do things that nature hasn’t already thought of doing in order to make real progress toward developing meaningful products. 

After a short break, the final set of sessions of this year’s conference kicked off on the main stage. John Cumbers introduced San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan, whom Cumbers said was the reason SynBioBeta made the move to San Jose this year.

John Cumbers and San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan


“We’re really proud that you chose San Jose. We’re a city full of scientists, engineers, and innovators, and we feel that this is the right place for you to be,” said Mahan when asked why he fought so hard to bring our amazing community to his city for our annual gathering. I don’t know about you, but I completely agree with him, and I’m so excited for SynBioBeta 2025 in San Jose again next year! CEO Mark Kotter and Nobel Laureate Thomas Südhof then joined the stage with John for a fireside chat on programming human cells and how we’ve really arrived at the point where we can move beyond developmental flow charts, leap-frogging evolution if you will, to push biology beyond its default pathways. 

John Cumbers, Nobel Laurate, Thomas Sudhof and Mark Kotter

“This is really profound because suddenly you pivot from something you can’t control to something you can. This is a foundational shift,” explained Kotter. His company develops and sells iPSC lines with (or without) specific mutations so scientists can drill down into the essence of what disease is and what causes it. 

“The human genome, as complex as it is, is actually amazingly simple compared to what cells do and what so many identities of cells enable cells to do. One of the most powerful scientific opportunities with reprogramming technologies is to understand better how the genome enables cells to assume an identity,” according to Südhof, who reminded the audience that this all started with the paradigm-shifting work of cell reprogramming pioneer Shinya Yamanaka.

Next up, Ribbon Biolabs CEO Jodi Barrientos took the stage to discuss the powerful intersection of intelligent algorithms and enzymatic assembly. Marrying these technologies, as RibbonBio has done, has the potential to simplify the assembly of complex synthetic genomes. 

Jodi Barrientos


Mark Kotter then took the stage again, along with Mekonos CEO Anil Narasimha, Sampling Human CEO Daniel Georgiev, and Integra Therapeutics CEO Avencia Sanchez-Mejias, to delve into the promise of programmable gene and cell therapies. The next big challenge that these entrepreneurs are tackling is bringing parity to the pace of innovation and the accessibility of the therapies that innovation enables. “There are successes already,” said Georgiev, referencing the Regeneron story. It’s not just CAR T-cells anymore—there are examples of other applications to other conditions.

Gene Meets Cell Panel: (From left to right) Meenakshi Prabhune (moderator) Mark Kotter, Avencia Sanchez-Mejias, Anil Narasimha, Daniel Georgiev  


The conference closed with an incredible session with Juan Benet, Founder and CEO of Protocol Labs, who discussed how to accelerate synbio R&D with new funding models: crypto, blockchain, and the DeSci movement. With the current funding landscape weighing heavy over our industry, I suspect that this discussion was very compelling for many of you, and a great way to close out the conference. 

Juan Benet


As usual, SynBioBeta 2023 left me feeling passionate and excited about our industry's future. I’m looking forward to seeing what we all accomplish in the next year and catching up again in just 12 short months!

*Photos by Patrick Power

Additional On-Site Writer Observations:

From Katia Tarasava: At SynBioBeta, the conversation does not stop after the day talks are over. Last night, Activate introduced its latest fellowship recipients at the happy hour. This new generation of synbio entrepreneurs is bringing innovation to fermentation technologies, microbe domestication, and agriculture. Congratulations to Julie Ming Liang (Opera Bioscience), Jyoti Taneja (Varada Agriculture), Timothy Wannier (Wild Microbes), Nik Mushnikov (AsimicA), Deepak Dugar (Visolis), Fatma Kaplan, CEO of Pheronym. Check out the full list of fellows on the Activate website.

New Activate Fellows

And if you think SynBioBeta is just about science, business, and policy discussions, think again. Last night, many of us got to partake in an immersive experience at Tech Interactive. Dan Grushkin, the Founder and Executive Director of Biodesign Challenge and this year’s Biodesign Track chair organized an evening featuring synbio demos and short film screenings at the IMAX theater. The event included a talk by Drew Berry, who showed a stunning DNA replication video he created for Björk.

From Gabrielle David

Amy Kruse (Satori Neuro), Dan Pomerantz (Rebel Growth), Andrew Jones (Miami University), and Nikita Obidin (Arcadia Medicine) joined each other in a diverse panel to discuss the intersection of synthetic biology and psychedelic therapies. Echoing a sentiment from a breakout session surrounding psilocybins earlier in the week, the panel touched upon the differences between synthetic and natural compounds in psychoactive therapies. While regulators favor the more rigorously profiled synthetic drugs, there are many therapeutic benefits to the more varied natural product. Some of the “off-target” effects can prove surprisingly beneficial, and the entourage effects exhibited in these natural products can inform a form of precision medicine wherein a myriad of psychoactive molecules all contribute to a more comprehensive, tailored treatment. 

However, synthetics still provide an opportunity for knowledge and understanding that was previously inaccessible. “What I would really like to see is the scientific and medical community collaborate with the traditional community of healers. Shamans, indigenous people have been healing people and using these very powerful naturally occurring [therapies] for thousands of years, but we don't really know why they’re working. Maybe synthetics combined with that in collaboration can answer a lot of those questions and answer a lot of doors,” Pomerantz suggested.

We love you all and appreciate your energy and enthusiasm. Until next year, friends!

The SynBioBeta Team




Jeff Buguliskis, PhD

Director of Content

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