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OneZero
The undercurrents of the future. A publication from Medium about technology and people.

Biotech

In OneZero. More on Medium.

In Future Human, staff writer Emily Mullin delivers a fascinating bit of news about our organ shortage: A Chinese biotech startup co-founded by Harvard geneticist George Church has produced 2,000 genetically engineered pigs — dubbed “Pig 3.0” — in hopes of finding ways to safely transplant their organs into humans in need.

The story presents an occasion to reflect on a curious dimension of our times: Although we generally think of “platforms” in terms of online spaces like Facebook, flesh and blood are mutable through new forms of technology. In a sense, these pigs are platforms in and of themselves…


In very meta news, Netflix says it has stored an episode of its new show Biohackers in DNA. It’s a first for the streaming service, which partnered with San Francisco biotech company Twist Bioscience and Robert Grass, a professor of chemistry and applied biosciences at ETH Zurich, to do so. The fictional German language series, which debuted in August, explores the futuristic possibilities of engineering biology.

To store data in DNA, a data file is first converted from its binary code of 0s and 1s into the four building blocks of DNA — A, C, G, and T. Those letters…


Dean Kamen, who invented the Segway almost 20 years ago, is still busy inventing. Now, at the age of 69, he is working on the most ambitious project of his career: manufacturing organs. Photos: Tony Luong

When the FDA approves lab-grown human organs for patients, Dean Kamen wants to be ready to mass-produce them

This past January, the umpteenth version of the Segway Personal Transporter whisked attendees around in its white, egg-shaped seat at CES, the huge annual consumer electronics show in Las Vegas. Called the Segway S-Pod, it drew comparisons to the hover-chairs in Wall-E that shuttled around people so out of shape and blob-like, they’d forgotten how to stand.

This is not how Dean Kamen, who invented the Segway almost 20 years ago, imagined his legacy.

Kamen was inspired to create a device like the Segway in the early ’90s, when he noticed a young man who’d lost his legs in a…


Trash from biotech startups are citizen scientists’ treasure

Natoya Lee sees Bio-Link Depot as a way to help students from marginalized communities improve STEM education. Photography: Drew Costley

One Saturday in August 2018, Patrik D’haeseleer raced down to Silicon Valley with two other members of Counter Culture Labs, a community science lab and maker space in Oakland, California. D’haeseleer and other scientists around the Bay Area had heard that the controversial blood-testing company Theranos, once the unicorn biotech startup of the Valley, was liquidating its assets to pay off creditors. There was a rumor going around that local community laboratories and other nonprofits might be invited to help Theranos rid itself of its wares.

The rumor turned out to be true.

D’haeseleer and his companions pulled up to…


Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon are all getting involved in your health care. Here’s why.

Photo: stevecoleimages/Getty Images

As U.S. presidential hopefuls put forth policy proposals to fix America’s health care system, tech giants like Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook are trying to create their own solutions. The situation is so bad that some think Big Tech’s intervention might be welcome.

“Everyone hates the health care system,” says John Wilbanks, chief commons officer at Sage Bionetworks, a Seattle-based nonprofit that promotes open science and patient engagement in research. “It’s so bad that the vast majority of interventions will make it better from an experience perspective,” he says. …


There’s a satisfying irony in a medical school replacing a company that grew briefly rich and famous for fraudulent medical devices

Photos courtesy of the author

Theranos had a thing about circles. In early discussions about the company’s logo, founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was drawn to a pagan-era pattern of overlapping circles re-christened the “Flower of Life” by more recent New Age writers, journalist John Carreyrou explained in Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup. Circles appeared frequently in the company’s marketing materials; its logo highlighted the “o” in the company name.

So when the blood-testing company moved to a new corporate headquarters in late 2014 — back when Theranos was valued at $9 billion and no federal charges had been filed…


It’s a key first step toward using pigs to solve the world’s donor organ shortage

Credit: Minipigs/Wikimedia Commons

In a pathogen-free facility in Grafton, Massachusetts, a small town about 40 miles west of Boston, genetically engineered miniature pigs are being bred to donate their skin to humans.

Their skin, which looks remarkably similar to the human variety and is referred to as Xeno-Skin, will be transplanted by surgeons at Massachusetts General Hospital to a small group of burn victims in an attempt to speed up the healing process. It’s the first experiment approved by the U.S. …


Illustrations by Lilly Padula

Despite technical breakthroughs like Elon Musk’s Neuralink, scientists still have no reliable model of how the brain actually works

The 19th-century villa, glass-walled conservatory, and gardens of the Carlsberg Academy in Copenhagen is hallowed ground in the history of science. It was originally the home of J.C. Jacobsen, founder of the Carlsberg brewery. Jacobsen decreed that the property should become “an honorary residence for a man or woman engaged in science, literature, or art.”

From 1932 to 1962, that resident was Niels Bohr, the Nobel Prize-winning Danish physicist who worked out how quantum mechanics determines the structure of atoms. This is where Bohr strolled and conferred with luminaries of science like Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg, and J. …


‘Hubris is very dangerous’: How blood diagnostic companies are distancing themselves from Theranos’ fraud charges

Illustration: Ariel Davis

Tanay Tandon ditched class the day Elizabeth Holmes came to speak to his fellow freshmen at Stanford University a few years ago. At the time, says Tandon, now 22, the campus community was already skeptical about Theranos, Holmes’ now-infamous blood testing company. That’s because her talk took place around the time John Carreyou at the Wall Street Journal published his first story questioning Theranos’ legitimacy. According to Tandon’s classmates, Holmes — who dropped out of Stanford to start her company — spent part of her lecture explaining to the students why she felt the accusations against her were wrong.

“It…

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