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Bio & Life Sciences

Using Software to Program the Building Blocks of Life

Andrew Hessel (l) with Stewart Brand and Eri Gentry at Techonomy 2013 in Tucson, Ariz.

Andrew Hessel (l) with Stewart Brand and Eri Gentry at Techonomy 2013 in Tucson, Ariz.

“What’s beautiful about software is that it makes complex jobs easy,” opines Andrew Hessel, a distinguished researcher at Autodesk, the software company best known for the design software, AutoCAD. What’s really beautiful about what Hessel and others at Autodesk are working on is what they’re building new design tools for—life itself. Hessel, who spoke at Techonomy’s November conferences in 2011 and 2013, sees the work Autodesk is involved in as a way to create greater access to the burgeoning field of synthetic biology and, along the way, turbocharge fields like energy and food production, manufacturing, and hopefully developing personalized, genetic-level tools for fighting, maybe even curing, things like cancer. The work underway at Autodesk would, in essence, allow synthetic biologists to create and program genetic sequences and, in turn, living organisms, much in the same way engineers now program computer code. As tech and biology become more intertwined, these new fields of research, design and fabrication open more and more doors to what’s possible, reimagining applications, tools and treatments for challenges that have bedeviled humanity for far too long.

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