Austen Heinz, Cambrian Genomics: An Obituary

Few pioneers in Synthetic Biology can claim such gravity as Austen Heinz. His vision of the potential for the field was doubtless and optimistic. Democratising DNA synthesis was his strive. On May 24th 2015, at the ripe age of 31, SynBio lost one of its greatest

Austen Heinz (copyright SynBioBeta.com)

Austen entered SynBio, as most do, through iGEM (Duke University team). In 2011, he founded Cambrian Genomics. If you haven’t heard of them, you should have. He appeared to split is time between dreaming of a wild and fun future of SynBio full of glowing plants and mini dinosaurs and a more realistic and useful future where DNA can be laser printed like words on a page. This latter dream is that shared by Cambrian Genomics and will live on in Austen’s memory.

Cambrian Genomics: Laser Printing DNA

Cambrian Genomics (copyright Cambrian Genomics)

Testament to the vision of Cambrian Genomics, the San Francisco group raised over $10 million in their latest round of funding (Nov 2014).

Beyond the media-drawing attention-grabbing applications of their technology (see Sweet Peach vaginal odour project, glowing plants, and the like) DNA laser printing is proving successful in grounded applications such as drug production. With three patents filed protecting their printing technology Cambrian Genomics is set to revolutionise the DNA synthetic industry (which is no small feat!).

Just imagine a day when an entire plasmid construct can be synthesised from scratch for a small price. The frustrations of cloning would be over!

In the words of the late Austen Heinz the concept is pretty simple: “We print life. Life is very simple, it’s just code. Four letters — we print that.” (TechRepublic).

There is no doubt over the importance of a breakthrough of this kind with some (Austen Heinz himself, in fact) comparing the ability to freely print large quantities of DNA revolutionising society moreso that the dawn of the internet. A bold claim.

To give you an idea of the cost-advantage of Cambrian it is widely cited that it costs roughly $1 to print one DNA base conventionally. Therefore you would be looking at about $6 billion to print the entire human genome. Cambrian Genomics have claimed their technology could do this for only $1000.

Have a look at Austen explaining their technology