Guest Blog: What is Biotechnology by Robert Klein

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I was recently asked to present at Singularity University at a workshop titled “The Business of Biotech”. This seemed like a great opportunity both to step back a bit and think about biotechnology in a broader sense and to see what the Singularity University is all about (my good friend Ruby has been raving about it since taking the Executive Program).
By way of background, I’ve been in the biotech industry for about twenty years (time flies!) since getting my PhD at MIT studying molecular genetics.
I’ve spent most of my professional career working on genomics with some serious detours into drug development. While I’ve done some of this at large biotechs including Genentech, I prefer the small, intimate, exciting, and life or death environment of a startup. Startups also allow me to wear different hats at different times. Sometimes I’m in charge of science. Sometimes I’m the CEO. All depends on what needs to get done and how the team comes together.
Kristina Hathaway the organizer,  asked me to give a talk titled ‘What is Biotechnology?’  It was actually pretty fun to put together since it is easy to forget that biotech encompasses so much more than just genomics and drug development – my normal myopic view of the field.
One big revelation for me was that the first true ‘killer app’ for biotech was invented 5,000 years ago. Its called beer.
Here are the slides I presented at the session – I hope you enjoy them! Slides: What is biotechnology?
If you have any questions or would like to get in touch you can email me at or follow me on twitter @rdklein

Thinking Globally About The Business of Biotech

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What do China, Brazil, India and Africa have in common?  They are all countries where the adoption of Biotechnology has the propensity to  solve many of the challenges that afflict them including disease, poverty, food and fuel.  In fact more than this, China, India and Brazil have already been successful in creating whole industries around Biotechnology and are emerging as leaders in the areas of genomics, vaccine production and agricultural biology.

I have the best job in the world, I spend about 70% of my time traveling around the world talking and learning about genomics different countries.  In addition, I am an alumnus of Singularity University.  This week Kristina Hathaway (@Sytype)  my good friend and veteran in the biotechnology industry,  was hosting a workshop called The Business of Biotech at Singularity University.  She invited me to give a presentation there on “Thinking Globally”.

The goal of my talk was encourage the attendees to think about

  • How can Biotechnology can solve global challenges?
  • What are the challenges and opportunities that exist outside the developed world ?
  • When building a business around Biotech what are the factors to consider for International Markets?
  • How have various countries been successful in building industries around Biotechnology?

Here is a copy of the short slide deck I presented.  The Business of Biotech – Thinking Globally

In the next post – I will share with you a slide deck by Dr Robert Klein who was also presenting at this workshop on The History of Biotechnology.

Biotechnology 101 Slides for Singularity University

Biotechnology 101 for Singularity University

As many of you are aware, I recently gave a talk at the very prestigious Singularity University.  This is a program co-funded by NASA and Google to study how exponential technologies can solve the global challenges that afflict 1 billion people or more.

Check out

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Biotechnology 101 for Singularity University SLIDES

The 2011 Graduate Studies Program or GSP11 as it is known among the Singularitans, is a 12 week program where 80 of the brightest and most accomplished individuals from over 35 countries have assembled at NASA AMES to learn the exponential technologies in the following areas

Technology Tracks AI & Robotics
Networks & Computing Systems
Biotechnology & Bioinformatics
Medicine & Neuroscience
Resource Tracks Futures Studies & Forecasting
Policy, Law & Ethics
Finance & Entrepreneurship
Application Tracks Energy & Ecological Systems
Space & Physical Sciences

I was lucky enough to be invited to give them the basics of Biotechnology and Genomics and for those of you that are interested, my slides are posted above.

What The Hell is SingularityU Anyway?

This week I am experiencing one of the most mind bending, eye opening, future looking weeks of my life. I am indulging the technology enthusiast and the geeky side of me by attending the Executive Program at Singularity University.

For those of you not familiar with the concept of the Singularity let me start by explaining what it is.  To understand the Singularity concept we must first understand the principle of Moores Law.

Gordon Moore is a co founder of the chip maker Intel.  40 years ago he predicted the following

The number of transistors incorporated in a chip will approximately double every 24 months.”

This prediction has held true for computer technology and explains the rapid and exponential pace of the computer industry – their increasing power, memory, speed, functionality and the rapidly decreasing costs in a relatively short time frame.  It is thought that this trend will continue in an exponential manner.

Moores law has also applied to a number of technologies in other industries, for example semiconductors, camera pixels and microarrays or DNA chips

For more information on Moores law click HERE

Ok back to the Singularity. What happens if innovations in numerous technology disciplines occur exponentially at a rate faster than Moore’s law, to the point where they can supersede human intelligence and understanding?  This is the principle behind the Singularity.  The Singularity is hypothetical futuristic event thought to occur when disruptive technology innovations develop so fast that they cause radical and unpredictable changes to the future.  It will involve cross pollination of disciplines such as

  • Artificial intelligence and robotics
  • Networks and computing systems
  • Nanotechnology
  • Biotechnology and bioinformatics
  • Medicine and neuroscience
  • Energy and environmental systems

Singularity University in Silicon Valley is the first multidisciplinary university of its kind aiming to give participants a macro view across all disciplines, an understanding of the applications of the technology and to inspire and foster entrepreneurship and innovation.

It is hoped that the convergence of two or more on these disciplines may serve to solve large global issues that affect 1 billion or more people. Examples of such problems include housing, green energy, water, health care, education.

Cross pollination of technologies from different industries have historically been involved in  driving the genomics revolution.  The problem of viewing the all the genes in the genome simultaneously wasn’t solved by biology.  It was first solved by technology advancements from the semiconductor industry.  The convergence of semiconductor technology, engineering and chemistry is what gave us the ability to view all the genes in the genome on the first microarrays commercialized by Affymetrix.

Another example is the effect that imaging and computing technologies have had on medicine and health care.  The ability to see inside the human body at high resolution without invasive surgical procedures has rapidly advanced the field of medical diagnostics, prognostics and therapeutic interventions.

This week at Singularity University I am learning all of the disciplines above from some of the thought leaders in these areas.  I’m here because as biotechnology and genomics start to play a major role in clinical and medical practice, I would like to have a view of emerging technologies from other disciplines which may be key to solving some of the critical problems in genomic medicine.

The next few posts I will share with you some of the incredible things I have learned and witnessed from some of the most inspirational people in the world.

Watch this space…..

For more info – check THIS out from the founder