Andrew Hessel is the President of Humane Genomics Inc., a seed-stage company developing virus-based therapies for cancer, starting with dogs. He is a co-founder of the Genome Project-write, the international scientific effort working to engineer large genomes, including the human genome. From 2012-2017 Andrew was the Distinguished Researcher at Autodesk Life Sciences. He is also the co-founder of the Pink Army Cooperative, the world first cooperative biotechnology company, which is aiming to make open source viral therapies for cancer. His goal is to help people better understand and use living systems to meet the needs of society.
* Click “read more” to find out how are speakers are going digital and their thoughts around Covid-19. *Read More
Trained in microbiology and genetics, Andrew has continually worked at the forefront of genomics, first to read and comprehend bacterial, human, and other genomes and more recently to write them. He believes the technology that makes this possible, called synthetic biology, is revolutionary and that it will eventually surpass information technology (IT) as an economic engine and driver of societal change.
He speaks widely on topics that include cells as living computers, life science as an emerging IT industry, and biological safety and security. Andrew is an advocate of open genetic engineering, believing that the field will increasingly resemble the software industry and give rise to open source, single purpose (app), and freemium applications, and that it will be spearheaded by younger programmer-entrepreneurs. He is active in the iGEM and DIYbio (do-it-yourself) communities and frequently works with students and young entrepreneurs to help them be successful.
Since 2009, Andrew has also been the co-chair of Bioinformatics and Biotechnology at the Singularity University, located at the NASA Research Park in Mountain View, California. There, he educates graduate students and executive participants on the disruptive shifts underway in life science and helps them become actively engaged in these changes.
In November, 2011, he was appointed a fellow at the University of Ottawa, Institute for Science, Society, and Policy, focusing on how next-generation technologies shape society future.
Andrew has given dozens of invited talks related to synthetic biology, for groups that include Autodesk Inc., the FBI, the United Nations Biological Weapons Convention Implementation Support Unit, TEDx, Intel Inc., the New America Foundation, Alberta Innovates Technology Futures, the Oil Sands Leadership Initiative, and Statoil.
INTERVIEW WITH OUR SPEAKERS AROUND VIRTUAL EVENTS AND COVID-19
1. How comfortable do you feel speaking in virtual events? What do you enjoy about it and what are the challenges?
I am very comfortable speaking at virtual events. I’ve always done them in addition to live events. They can be very engaging, with feedback streaming back to me in real-time through comments. Many participants connect and follow-up. The biggest general challenges are bandwidth and time zones.
2. How has the pandemic affected your work? Has this pandemic caused you to update your content significantly and approach?
The pandemic has put a spotlight on synthetic biology and synthetic genomics that has accelerated my work. These technologies helped speed the development of the diagnostic tests, vaccines, and therapies directed at COVID-19. My personal work involves making synthetic viruses for animal and human health. My content is constantly being updated because the field is moving so fast but let’s just say that a lot more people are interested in virology and vaccines these days.
3. What do you think will be the positives and negatives of your work post-COVID-19?
I think we’ll see significant changes in humanity’s ability to detect and respond to virus outbreaks. Outbreaks are like forest fires — if they can be contained early they don’t do much harm. Today, we have satellite networks in space that provide global positioning and monitoring. My hope is that we’ll create similar global networks to detect and counter virus outbreaks so fast, pandemics and even seasonal flu will be relegated to the history books. Along the way, we’ll stamp out other virus-caused diseases, from polio to measles to zika. That’s the positive side. On the negative side, we really do need to rethink biological security in a world where viruses can be engineered with the push of some buttons. This work is overdue and people will be skeptical if it is not done well. And even if it is done well, we’re likely to see the anti-vaccine and conspiracy voices grow louder until the data is irrefutable. So there are great opportunities and great challenges alike in the near future.
THE ENGINEERING OF LIFE
Biology is a mysterious technology – but not for much longer. We may not have created it, but we’re reverse engineering it faster and faster. Life is quickly becoming understood and programmable. Next-generation, digital biotechnologies such as systems biology and synthetic biology are fundamentally changing the game of R&D so quickly that it’s nothing less than a revolution. The dynamics are global – many countries are participating – and the benefits are potentially universal because life is a very affordable technology. Like computing, modern biotechnology is today no longer restricted to just the largest organizations; it’s a platform technology accessible to virtually anyone willing to learn the ropes. The elimination of barriers is shaking up the classical industry and demanding that everything from intellectual property, investment, and regulation be re-imagined. This talk will provide a framework for understanding biological systems, the recent activities of key individuals and groups working at the leading edge, and examine some of the opportunities, challenges, and bizarre stuff facing us in the years ahead.Read Less
Synthetic Biology - the programming of living creatures
How Biology Will Be the Defining Science of the 21st Century
Humans 2.0 -- Next generation IVF, gene-editing, and synthetic genomes
The Realization of Personalized Medicine
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