It’s rare to find a book that peeks into the mindset of an entire field. Yet this is the aim of What’s Your Bio Strategy? (2017) – a collaborative non-fiction book by PhD John Cumbers and MS/MFA Karl Schiemer. Cumbers is the founder of SynBioBeta, the San Francisco based activity and conference hub for synthetic biology startup companies, industry and investors, whereas Schiemer is the CEO of messagingLab, a strategic online communication company.
In What’s Your Bio Strategy?, the two thinkers interview various leaders and key players in the synthetic biology and biotechnology field today. These include famous names such as Dr J. Craig Venter (J. Craig Venter Institute, Human Human Longevity), George Church (Harvard University), Jason Kelly (Ginkgo Bioworks), Andras Forgacs (Modern Meadow), Andrew Hessel (Autodesk), Suzanne Lee (Biofabricate) and Eben Buyer (Ecovative).
In less than 200 pages, the book gives an impressive overview of the driving changes and advances in synthetic biology. Each interviewee give a headstrong testimony on how synthetic biology will impact and disrupt existing businesses and create new, unpredictable industries. This prediction mirrors the digital revolution seen with personalised computing and it’s exploding industries via smartphone use, apps and social media. Similar to how companies need to stay up to date with the digital era, Cumbers and Schiemer outline how companies can develop their own, internal bio strategy to stay ahead of the game.
Who should read this book?
Although widely accessible, this book is especially useful for industry leaders and investors looking to adopt a sustainable growth revenue into their business. The book paints a picture of how one day DNA synthesis will be free and how organism engineering paired with automation and design will be the new way of manufacturing, well, anything. As stated by Emily Leproust, cofounder of Twist Bioscience, a DNA synthesis firm:
Biology is here. It is impacting all areas of our lives and will help solve significant problems. If you’re a company and you’re not prepared, you will not benefit from the changes. It’s unstoppable and it’s for the better.
What was most interesting?
This book gives a great recap on how we have always used synthetic biology, from the very first time humans bake bread with yeast and brew beer, all the way to industrialised agriculture. Now, Cumbers and Schiemer reveal how for the first time in human history synthetic biology will not only be a mediative agent but a forbearing platform of global economies. Much like the computers from late 1980s to the smartphones today, the book acts as a catalyst for a similar shift in mindset for synthetic biology and how it might radically change society.
Additionally, the roundup of creative thinkers and CEO’s in What’s Your Bio Strategy? is impressive. Even though you might not be familiar with each of their work, this is a unique look into the mindsets of people who are reimagining the world. In this regard, the book reminds me of Tools Of Titans by Tim Ferris, in which he interviews a vast range of extreme performers and thinkers from all fields of life. This book can help the reader understand the most important trends in synthetic biology today, including lab automation, biofabrication and the effects of plummeting DNA re-writing costs.
Despite its impressive content, the interviews in What’s Your Bio Strategy? are transcribed from recorded audio or from emails and this makes the dialogue sometimes comically wooden. The text often flows unnaturally in an attempt to make sense of recorded thoughts, and little consideration is left for the original personality of the interviewee. Additionally, some of the questions seem unchallenging, e.g. “Is biology a technology?” when asked from the co-director of SynbiCITE, leaving the reader wondering what else they could have learned from these individuals had the questions been more specific.
Despite these nitpicks, What’s Your Bio Strategy? is an important overview of where we are heading with synthetic biology and how companies can respond to its inevitable expansion when it goes ‘viral’. I wait in anticipation for similar in-depth takes on the progression of the synbio field.