By @SimonCocking

Really pleased to bring you the words and insights of Cathal Garvey @onetruecathal, Sci-Director of Indie Bio in Cork, EU Synbio accelerator. As well as DIYbio enabler, Pythonista, Crypto-enthusiast, Leonardo, co-founder @FormaBiolabs  and @nexuscork makerspace. 

What is possible now in synthetic biology?

In terms of tissue engineering, we have an Irish team here SothicBio, @SothicBio developing a method to grow artificial gills and blood from horseshoe-crabs; seems odd, until you realise that Horseshoe Crab blood-extract is a critical part of how we ensure medical equipment and produce is safe for human use, and the species is rapidly nearing extinction!

Another team who’s joining the rapidly advancing biotech scene here in Cork is Ourobotics @ouro_botics, who develop high-accuracy next-gen bioprinting equipment, for printing tissue scaffolds and perhaps ultimately whole organs. Cork is an ideal place to develop such technologies because of the strong crossover between academia, industry, startup-culture and bio-makers.

What you guys are doing well at?

I think Indie Bio EU is showing the world that Cork is a fantastic venue for biotech, not just in the EU but globally. Startup funding can go a lot further here than elsewhere, we have a strong talent pool in biotech, particularly fermentations, general/medical microbiology and microbiomics, and we’re a welcoming and fun culture to immerse in.

Indie Bio EU has a sweet spot between a university partnership and an accelerator model driven by a VC firm, SOSventures, who excel at acceleration. Our nine teams here have come along tremendously in only 1.5 months, and have begun making a strong impression on customers and investors already.

What is coming soon?

Stay tuned for our demo day on August 12th, (book tickets here ) where we’ll be giving our teams room to showcase what they’ve achieved. Everything from DNA-based computers to allergy-free peanuts to vat-grown crab blood to life-extending yoghurt will be on show!

In the longer run, we’re going to make it known; Cork is Carbon Valley, the ideal place for biotech and synbio start-ups to come and grow their ideas.

What is further down the road due to current tech limits / challenges?

The “Arduino of Life”, a living cell that can be programmed near-directly from a computer, is in my view the ultimate goal of synthetic biology. We’re getting there slowly.

More immediately, watch out for digital microfluidics, which will offer a way to conduct experiments at micro-scale repeatably, sharing the protocols with colleagues online, and removing the need for a lot of macro-scale equipment. I’m very excited by the potential for this area of next-gen lab equipment, particularly if it can break the “home lab” barrier and make bioscience more approachable to people traditionally excluded from it.

What is your view of what the road map looks like, and what is likely soon?

Soon: more biomakerspaces, more biotech literacy in the general public, more enthusiasm from the young and pioneering-old. More amazing developments, and more road-blocks from misinformed so-called “environmental” NGOs, until we can bust through the “GMOs are bad” mythos.

Later: Yet-more efficient agriculture, and the first wave of food products designed with consumers rather than producers in mind. More granular and personalised therapies and diagnostics. Better, vaster vaccines using synthetic “knock-out” vaccine strains; get a 99% effective flu vaccine days after the first outbreak!

Later still: Programmable cells, hybrids-by-post, farmer-optimised crops for region/climate/soil-type, internet-of-plants for real-time crop-health feedback, coupled to farm automation for high-yield-low-input-low-labour agriculture.

Your predictions of the future, what you are excited by?

The intersection of biotech, AI, and cleantech; if done correctly (policy plus design), it can help us achieve a low-impact and high-satisfaction lifestyle. But, I’m concerned that AI isn’t being regulated seriously, and that people are mistakenly regarding mass-surveillance as a “price” that must be paid for evidencial data-lead policy.

I’m also concerned that “Intellectual Property” is a huge hurdle to real advancement.

So what *really* excites me is the intersection of the above and the Pirate Party politic that’s swept Europe and broken into mainstream parties’ manifestos; we need technology, we need culture to adapt, but we need to keep our basic human rights and our freedom to invent along with it. We’ll get there!

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