Bio & Life Sciences Energy & Green Tech Internet of Things

Will Programming Plants Feed the World?

This indoor farm in Japan is state-of-the-art, growing salad greens at high speed but high quality. (photo courtesy Philips)

By 2025 food shortages and price fluctuations could be a thing of the past, everywhere. New technologies for cultivating plants indoors could feed eight billion people, save energy and dramatically reduce pollution. But beyond the growing enthusiasm for "vertical farms" or "plant factories" lies the potential to alter elements in the recipe for these environments to create plants and foods with no precedent–more nutritious, hardy, or tasty–or whatever other characteristics we decide to favor.   More

Bio & Life Sciences

5 Genomic Advances To Be Thankful For

Whether your turkey is genetically altered or not, there's plenty of genomics healthcare developments to be thankful for. (photo Shutterstock)

With Thanksgiving approaching, Techonomy's resident champion of genomics details some things she's thankful for this year: Better Cancer Testing; Increased Data-Sharing Efforts; Scientists Who Push Boundaries (and Police Themselves Too); Living Foundries; and the FDA's Approval of the First DTC Genetic Test. She looks forward to more advances that will help regular consumers as programs like the federal Precision Medicine Initiative kick off.   More

Bio & Life Sciences Energy & Green Tech Internet of Things

Food Production in a Technology-driven Economy

The Open Agriculture initiative at MIT Media Lab recently put food computers like this one in several Boston-area classrooms so students can experiment with "climate recipes" for growing plants.

The Open Agriculture Initiative at the MIT Media Lab aims to drive a paradigm shift from the industrial to the networked age of agricultural production—giving rise to a computationally-based food systems revolution that will account for the ecological, environmental, economic, and societal implications of producing food. Making agricultural practices radically transparent will improve access to fresh, nutritious foods, reduce spoilage and waste, and create communities built on a shared platform and shared data.   More

Bio & Life Sciences Healthcare

How Anybody Can Help Advance Genomic Medicine Now

The Tuskegee syphilis experiment helped lead to new ways to protect subjects of scientific studies. Now those controls may be outdated. (Here a researcher draws blood from a subject.) (Photo copyright National Archives and Records Admin.)

Genomic medicine is on the horizon, and is likely to change healthcare. But there’s no shortage of challenges: regulations, data-sharing limits, funding, and lack of research participants, to name a few. But the biggest obstacle, surprisingly, is what's called "informed consent." That's what people need to agree to if they are to participate in research. And right now, each of us has a unique chance to minimize this obstacle by speaking out for a change.   More

Bio & Life Sciences Society

The Politics Behind Parkinson’s Research

Monkeys with symptoms of Parkinson's disease recreated a dense network of neural pathways after treatment with a type of non-embryonic stem cells. (photo courtesy International Stem Cell Corp.)

Planned Parenthood’s problem with anti‐abortionists may have an unintended victim: research into Parkinson’s Disease. Much stem cell research has nothing to do with aborted fetuses. But the lack of clarity and public understanding about the term has meant that research involving all stem cells – embryonic or fetal – is jeopardized. The irony is that tremendous advances have been made in the research on Parkinson’s in the United States and abroad, especially Japan. But so much more is possible.   More

Bio & Life Sciences Healthcare Society

Meeting My Genome: This Expensive Test Still Isn’t for Everyone

Sequenced Genome

Earlier this year, I moderated a panel discussion at Techonomy Bio and asked speakers whether genome sequencing was ready for the average consumer. Their responses were split. Having now just gotten my own genome sequenced, I can say definitively: yes it’s ready, and no it isn’t.   More

Bio & Life Sciences Finance Startup Culture

How Crowdsourcing Can Help Fund Science

A project on science crowd funding site Experiment.

This morning, I helped analyze fish scales to better track migration patterns, by giving the scientists some cash. Crowdfunding has made a difference in all sorts of initiatives, so it’s no surprise to see it pop up in science. Experiment was built by scientists who believe alternative funding could fill a key gap in research.   More

Bio & Life Sciences Government Techonomy Events

Growing Bones and On-Demand Joints: Top Picks from TE Bio and Policy

At TE Policy: from left, Sean Parker, Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Deb Fischer, David Kirkpatrick

This year's Techonomy Bio and Policy conferences examined critical fields being altered by the progress of tech. We covered everything from growing bones to decoding the brain at TE Bio in March. Then TE Policy explored the not always happy confluence of tech innovation and government. We had briefings on Blockchain and the Internet of Things, and deep dives on cyberwar and the European single digital market. We closed with Senators Booker and Fischer and the inimitable Sean Parker on tech, innovation and American progress.   More

Bio & Life Sciences Global Tech Startup Culture

Lebanon’s Unlikely Hydroponic Farmer Wants to Change Local Agriculture

Pictured from Left to Right: Christian Sakr, Mahmoud Hossari, Ali Makhzoum, Ali Awad, and Celine Sakr.

Ali Makhzoum thinks his hydroponic farming system can increase farmers’ yields, decrease the labor needed to harvest and reduce the water requirements by up to 90 percent. His Life Labs systems, developed in Beirut, are automated, self-contained, and, Makhzoum hopes, “smart”--with the ability to govern themselves.   More

Bio & Life Sciences Business

Can Hot Consumer Genomics Startup Helix Keep the FDA at Bay?

image from Shutterstock

A new company launched by the market leader in DNA sequencing aims to bring genomics to the masses. Helix, kicked off on August 18 with a capital injection of more than $100 million, appears to embrace a direct-to-consumer approach that hasn’t been seen since pioneer 23andMe's ready-to-mail spit kits. Given the FDA’s firm pushback against 23andMe, though, does Helix has a bright future?   More

Bio & Life Sciences

No Longer Rocket Science: Helping Consumers Understand Genetic Info

At the first Map-Ed competition. Photo via

A decade ago, biologist Ting Wu saw a need to promote education and interest in genetics among consumers, as well as to help scientists understand how the public views their research. Today, the initiative that resulted helps teachers and students, scientists, Congress, and even Hollywood writers and producers understand and spread the message that genetics is important and accessible.   More

Bio & Life Sciences Internet of Things

I Heart This Overlooked Feature of the Apple Watch

(Image via Shutterstock)

One of the features that most intrigues me about the Apple Watch is the one that lets you share heartbeats. It’s the sound you hear when you’re being held by someone you love. It’s something that encapsulates our humanity. It’s one of the first ways an expectant mother connects with her child—the fetal heartbeat heard via ultrasound. This little feature has been overlooked in many of the product reviews. I am fascinated by a technological connection that fosters intimacy between two people physically regardless of where they are. Unlike FaceTime or Skype, which replicate a lesser version of someone’s visual presence, sharing a heartbeat pioneers a new realm of digital intimacy that links our bodies and our devices in a new dance of tactile connectivity.   More

Bio & Life Sciences

Challenges for Genomics in the Age of Big Data

(Image via Shutterstock)

Last week, a group of respected researchers published a commentary about the coming data challenges in genomics. Comparing the projected growth of genomic data to three other sources considered among the most prolific data producers in the world—astronomy, Twitter, and YouTube—these scientists predict that by 2025, genomics could well represent the biggest of big data fields. With the raw data for each human genome taking up about 100 GB, we’re well on our way. Genomics only recently entered the big data realm, and we have major issues to address before it leapfrogs every other data-generating group.   More

Bio & Life Sciences

Will Even a Cholesterol Test Help Identify Cancer?

(Image via Shutterstock)

Early detection is one of the most effective ways to beat cancer. That’s why some recent studies, in which scientists detected it in people long before symptoms began, have cancer researchers so excited. The coolest part? These scientists weren’t even looking for signs of cancer. DNA-based detection tools have gotten sensitive enough that it now appears possible to identify precancerous cells. This ability to spot precancerous cells could become pivotal in oncology. It could also be problematic.   More

Bio & Life Sciences Government

For Genome Editing, Self-Regulation Beats a Government Ban

(Image via Shutterstock)

A breakthrough method that makes editing the genes of living beings relatively easy, called CRISPR, is much in the news these days. So are the many implications—both terrifying and promising—associated with it. The seemingly endless possibilities of genome editing have even the scientific community on edge, and it’s stirring up heated debate about where the ethical limits are. At the moment, most of the calls for restraint in the use of CRISPR are coming directly from scientists, but it won’t be long before government officials or candidates hoping to be elected start airing their opinions about how this field should be regulated. It’s worth taking a moment to consider how different modes of oversight could affect the opportunities afforded us by genome editing.   More

Bio & Life Sciences Internet of Things

Latin American Entrepreneurs Pioneer Healthcare Tech

Conceived during the depths of the economic recession, MassChallenge is a startup accelerator that supports early-stage entrepreneurs. At last month's WEF Latin America event in Mexico, MassChallenge founder and CEO John Harthorne talked with Techonomy partner Hub Culture, explaining the accelerator's work to shift more of the economy toward startup efforts, creating "more pie" for entrepreneurs rather than forcing them to "fight each other over slices of pie."   More

Bio & Life Sciences

National Academy of Sciences Wades into CRISPR-Cas9 Debate

(Image via Shutterstock)

In response to growing concerns about the potential application of CRISPR-Cas9 technology, the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine are convening an international summit this fall to “explore the scientific, ethical, and policy issues associated with human gene-editing research." If you think of a genome as a manuscript, full of extraneous, unnecessary, sometimes flat-out harmful material, the CRISPR-Cas9 technique can be likened to an incredibly useful editing tool. In biological circles, the conversation is heated. Some see remarkable opportunities to prevent the kinds of genetic diseases that impact millions of people a year, things like cystic fibrosis, sickle cell, hemophilia, and more. Others see yet another Pandora’s box that could lead to things like designer babies or the unintended genetic mutations that lead to unimaginable consequences.   More

Bio & Life Sciences

Why Genetic Tests May Call For a Second Opinion

(Image via Shutterstock)

When you get your cholesterol levels after a blood test, you may grumble about the new diet your doctor recommends or the statins you have to take—but you probably don’t wonder whether the levels were wrong. We know clinical lab results are tightly regulated, so we take their accuracy as a given. Assuming the same thing about lab results from a genetic test, however, could be a mistake.   More

Bio & Life Sciences

Could a Microbe Transplant Make You Thinner? (And Other Amazing Things About Bacteria and Antibiotics)

(Image via Shutterstock)

We are in the earliest days of understanding the human microbiome—the communities of microbes that live in and on our bodies—but already scientists are getting a sense of the incredible complexity of this ecosystem and its interaction with us. These advances were made possible just in the past decade by the latest DNA sequencers and other technologies that can scan and analyze huge numbers of microbes at a time. This understanding may enable radical new techniques for weight control, among other revolutionary implications.   More

Bio & Life Sciences Techonomy Events Video

Great Short “Bio” Videos from Techonomy’s Chief Program Officer

As we wrapped our second Techonomy Bio conference a couple of weeks ago, it got me thinking about how many interesting “bio” related 180s we've produced in recent years. Our “180° Talks” are three-minute presentations in which the speaker aims to change the audience’s mind about a generally accepted paradigm, or tells us about something they’ve reversed their thinking about. My all time favourite is from Techonomy 2011. Andrew Hessel, then at Singularity University and now at Autodesk, spoke about biotech, procreation, computer-assisted genetic design, and his decision to get a vasectomy.   More