Advancing Biotechnology Safely
We are committed biotechnologists who:
Catalyze beneficial advances by applying robotics and machine learning to evolve new molecular tools and techniques
Apply molecules, models, and cryptography to defend against pandemics and prevent the catastrophic misuse of biotechnology
Work with the guidance of interested communities to safely and humanely edit wild populations and ecosystems
To learn more, dive into our research or publications, meet the group, read our philosophy, or donate to support our work.
Our goal is to thoughtfully ascend the tree of knowledge. We must accelerate our harvest of beneficial technological fruits to sustain, protect, and improve civilization, while refraining from exploring branches harboring advances so powerful and accessible that they pose catastrophic risks. In other words, we must learn to sculpt the evolution of biotechnology.
Recent Lab News
14 November 2021
Let's assume there's a good chance that thousands of people will be able to start new pandemics within a decade. Several folks in our lab can generate infectious samples of many viruses from a genome sequence, so this seems sadly plausible. What to do?
Delay proliferation and misuse to buy time
Detect subtle threats reliably and early
Defend by blocking infections outright
Pandemic proliferation a solvable problem. We now have a roadmap detailing what to do. The question is whether we'll actually do it.
Why Sculpt Evolution?
Evolution gave rise to every living thing and all of human culture, but evolved systems are very different from those designed by humans. They're harder to predict and to design, and exhibit a frustrating tendency to evolve away from engineered behaviors. At the same time, harnessing and directing evolution can generate useful organisms and molecular tools that we could never have rationally designed.
Our laboratory seeks to understand why systems evolve in the ways that they do, to develop tools capable of precisely intervening in the evolution of ecosystems, and to cultivate wisdom sufficient to know whether, when, and how to proceed.
30 December 2021
Our phage-and-robotics-assisted near-continuous evolution (PRANCE) platform for systematic directed evolution was published in Nature Methods. The original PACE system is about evolving biomolecules rapidly; PRANCE lets us do it in parallel, evolving up to 96 populations at once while monitoring the activity and changing conditions as needed.
Erika conceived PRANCE and built the early platform, while Emma ran many of the core evolution experiments and fine-tuned it. It wouldn't have been possible without key assistance from Dana, Stefan, and Brian, plus contributions from many other lab members.
Next up: applications!
8 December 2021
Kevin testified before the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, Central Asia, and Nonproliferation's hearing on "Biosecurity for the Future". Key point: A credible pandemic-capable virus is a credible and accessible weapon of mass destruction. Pandemic virus prediction, in assembling a list of such viruses in order to prevent natural pandemics, will unavoidably give thousands the power to simultaneously ignite as many pandemics as would naturally occur in a century. His written testimony is available here.
30 November 2021
We now have a somewhat functional if interim website following the design of Google Sites Classic. We're still working on finding a professional to redesign it for us - if you're enthused by our work, please contact sculpting-admin[at]media.mit.edu.
We're excited to welcome several new faces. Vikram Sundar joins us from the Computational and Systems Biology program, and will be focusing on evolutionary simulations and machine learning models. Summer DeAmelio joined us as a full-time lab technician in June, and has delighted everyone by gifting the lab with twice-weekly nanopore sequencing runs. Christy Dennison, an expert machine learning engineer formerly of OpenAI, has joined us as an M.Eng. student. William Bradshaw is a former collaborator on bidirectional contact tracing and genetic attribution who will be focusing on future biosecurity and the Nucleic Acid Observatory. Zac Hill, our new Director of Transgenesis, will be working closely with Joanna on Mice Against Ticks and Sebastian on Project Rarity, as well as generating new strains to test daisy drive approaches. In February, we will welcome Devanand Bondage, a specialist in mammalian engineering and host-pathogen interactions.
We're deeply grateful to Bill Lombardi for helping keep everything running smoothly through the pandemic. We are now looking to hire a lab Chief Operating Officer, an Executive Assistant, and multiple Research Scientists for the Nucleic Acid Observatory.