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Biotech lab in the cloud lowers entry barrier to nanotech research

credit The Emerald Cloud Laboratory

Recently we cited an alliance between Foresight and parts of the Bay Area biotech community to build an opensource biological parts repository, and we expressed the hope that spreading the meme that biological machines are indeed machines that can be engineered might seed efforts toward the open source development of molecular manufacturing. We thank Desiree D. Dudley of the Synthetic Neurobiology Group, MIT for letting us know of another Bay Area biotech initiative that might also speed development of molecular manufacturing (also known as atomically precise manufacturing). Emerald Therapeutics, whose co-founder DJ Kleinbaum spoke on “Democratizing Biotechnology” at the 2014 Foresight Technical Conference, has just announced The Emerald Cloud Laboratory, “a web-based life sciences lab, developed by scientists for scientists.” From Ashlee Vance at Bloomberg Businessweek “Emerald Therapeutics: Biotech Lab for Hire“:

There’s a basic formula these days for anyone looking to develop a cure for a disease. Along with a good idea, you need $20 million, a team of about 30 scientists, and a year to set up the lab equipment to start testing your theory. From there, the grunt work begins, as your team of well-paid researchers squirts fluid into test tubes, feeds chemicals into machines, and analyzes the results from thousands of experiments. If you luck out and discover something useful, then it’s time to pray that the desired result can be replicated.

Emerald Therapeutics, a 17-person startup in Silicon Valley, claims to have modernized much of this burdensome process, which might make drug discovery faster and cheaper. On July 1 the company unveiled a service that lets other labs send it instructions for their experiments via the Web. Robots then complete the work. The idea is a variation on the cloud-computing model, in which companies rent computers by the hour from Amazon.com (AMZN), Google (GOOG), and Microsoft (MSFT) instead of buying and managing their own equipment. In this case, biotech startups could offload some of their basic tasks—counting cells one at a time or isolating proteins—freeing their researchers to work on more complex jobs and analyze results. To control the myriad lab machines, Emerald has developed its own computer language and management software. The company is charging clients $1 to $100 per experiment and has vowed to return results within a day. …

As Allison Proffitt at Bio-IT World puts it:

… Don’t outsource experiments to another lab; let the robots do them!

That is the vision of Emerald Therapeutics, a Menlo Park company that announced its latest financing round today ($13.5 million), and its flagship product: Emerald Cloud Laboratory (ECL), a state-of-the-art life sciences laboratory that scientists can remotely access via the Internet where automated robotics conduct experiments exactly as specified by the user.

A user simply sits down at his computer, specifies the parameters for a given experiment, and the robots do the work. Experiments are executed using Emerald’s robotically automated systems, and within 24-48 hours all of the data generated is cataloged and placed into a database where it is accessible to the user and can be analyzed and shared with other scientists. …

James Temple at recode.net adds:

… The nearly 20-person company has packed a 5,000-square-foot facility in a little office park in Silicon Valley with more than $2 million worth of mass spectrometers, automated pipettes and microscopes, capable of carrying out remote life sciences experiments under controlled conditions. …

… “We really hope this system, in addition to supporting labs that are currently doing research, will also enable people to do their own research and form new companies for a fraction of the cost it currently takes,” said Daniel Jerome Kleinbaum, the company’s co-founder and co-CEO, who earned a PhD in organic chemistry at Stanford. …

… The cloud lab can currently carry out 40 standard life sciences experiments, such as Western Blots tests that identify specific proteins in tissue. The company expects to support up to 120 within the next year and a half. …

Biotechnology—experiments with DNA, proteins, RNA—is fundamental to the modular molecular composite nanosystems (MMCNs) route to atomically precise productive nanosystems, and to the new field of synthetic biology as another possible path to atomically precise manufacturing. The connections between biotechnology and nanotechnology are not unknown to Emerald’s co-founders. Emerald’s other co-founder Brian Frezza studied under two Foresight Feynman prize-winners—M. Reza Ghadiri and Nadrian Seeman. At prices like $1 to $100 per experiment, the Emerald Cloud Laboratory could make it possible for anyone with good ideas, from small start-ups to open source communities, to contribute to the development of molecular manufacturing.
—James Lewis, PhD

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