By Megan Molteni (WIRED),
In some ways, Synthego looks like any other Silicon Valleystartup. Inside its beige business park facilities, a five-minute drive from Facebook HQ, rows of nondescript black server racks whir and blink and vent. But inside the metal shelving, the company isn’t pushing around ones and zeros to keep the internet running. It’s making molecules to rewrite the code of life.
Crispr, the powerful gene-editing tool, is revolutionizing the speed and scope with which scientists can modify the DNA of organisms, including human cells. So many people want to use it—from academic researchers to agtech companies to biopharma firms—that new companies are popping up to staunch the demand. Companies like Synthego, which is using a combination of software engineering and hardware automation to become the Amazon of genome engineering. And Inscripta, which wants to be the Apple. And Twist Bioscience, which could be the Intel.
All these analogies to the computing industry are more than just wordplay. Crispr is making biology more programmable than ever before. And the biotech execs staking their claims in Crispr’s backend systems have read their Silicon Valley history. They’re betting biology will be the next great computing platform, DNA will be the code that runs it, and Crispr will be the programming language.
Synthego was founded by a pair of fraternal software engineers fresh off a tour working for Elon Musk’s SpaceX.Brothers Paul and Michael Dabrowski aren’t biologists. But in Crispr they saw a unique opportunity to take the principles of agile design they learned building rockets and apply it to making gene editing tools. Their first order of business was using miniaturization and automation to drastically speed up research and product development. They started by packing an airplane hangar’s worth of intelligent instrumentation into machines stacked in those server racks. Each one orchestrates a biochemical ballet, transforming a string of in silico instructions into the company’s first product: a custom Crispr kit.