Andrew Hessel

Inquire About This Speaker

Biotech and Life Sciences Visionary Helping Organizations and Society Understand How Synthetic Biology Will Positively Impact Human Life, Change Industries and Create Investment Opportunities; Cell Biologist, Futurist, Entrepreneur and Global Authority on Synthetically Engineering Life; Co-founder and Co-executive Director, Genome Project-write; Founder and Past President, Humane Genomics Inc.; Co-author, “The Genesis Machine” (February 2022)

Biography

Imagine a future where germ-detection systems are as ubiquitous as smoke detectors and the bio-manufacturing of not just medicines but also vaccines at pharmacies and doctors’ offices can quickly and cost-effectively address specific diseases or virus strains. A future where we can engineer cells to destroy cancer and fight the next viral outbreak before it becomes a global pandemic by architecting our immune systems. A future where millions of people are programming biological machines the way we currently program computer systems, creating new foods, materials, and biosystems to meet the needs of billions of people. A future where nothing goes extinct – in fact, the number of species is growing faster than anyone can count.

This is not science fiction. It is the world we are entering, one driven by synthetic biology, and pioneering geneticist and futurist Andrew Hessel is optimistically and ethically leading the way.

Co-author of the powerful new book, “The Genesis Machine: Our Quest to Rewrite Life in the Age of Synthetic Biology” (Public Affairs, February 2022) Hessel is a biotech and life sciences visionary and a foremost authority on cell biology and synthetically engineered life. Kirkus Reviews referred to the book as “a wrinkle on the near future that many readers will not have pondered—and should.”

“It is my firm belief that sustainable synthetic biology applications will create a better world for future generations, which is why I wrote this book,” says Hessel. “Programming biology is going to take us to the next level of manufacturing, recycling and producing new materials that nature gives us the hardware to do but evolution never selected it to do.”

A sought-after consultant to businesses and governments, Hessel speaks widely on a range of topics including cells as programmable living factories, viruses as an emerging software industry, the ethical uses of bioengineering and how to achieve effective biological safety and security. As an advisor and speaker, he helps leaders and investors across sectors understand and prepare for emerging opportunities in the biotech space. In the public sector, his extensive research on viruses allowed him and his colleagues to design a plan to prevent the next biological war.

Founder and past-president of Humane Genomics and co-executive director of the Genome Project-write (GPW), Hessel’s work focuses on improving the human experience, including preventing harmful viruses, curing diseases and addressing major issues like food scarcity and climate change.

“Why do we need to synthesize a human genome? We don’t,” explains Hessel in his prescient 2017 TEDxSanFrancisco Talk. “But we are synthesizing viruses and we don’t have things like standards, ethics, international collaborations, funding [and] networks, and we are not communicating well with the public. We need to think about this stuff now, not ten years from now.”

Hessel highlights the many ways advances in synthetic biology will impact every industry, from reproductive medicine, health care and consumer packaged goods to agriculture and energy. Engineered biomaterials offer attractive alternatives to oil-derived or natural products, with superior economics and control over the manufacturing processes, he points out. New technologies will also allow us to engineer plants and animals to better meet our nutritional needs without straining natural resources. And if age becomes a treatable pathology, financial services and insurance companies will need to rethink issues around life expectancy, retirement and related actuarial tables.

As the technology for designing and building life continues to advance, synthetic human genomes will soon be within reach. However, the benefits of merging computer science and life come with real and alarming risks that need to be understood and addressed. In his equally entertaining and informative presentations, Hessel discusses the promises and perils of synthetic biology including related ethical, political, legal, religious and social issues.

With his gaze fixed firmly on the future, Hessel has an unmatched ability to guide today’s decision makers toward unimagined future opportunities that will emerge from an area of science that promises to dramatically improve life on planet earth, for all its inhabitants.

“Biology is the only sustainable technology that we have,” he adds. “You don’t have to mow down a rain forest. You just make the forest work for you. It’s infinitely scalable, it’s not going away, it’s been around for four billion years and it has a simple programming language that is universal. We are adding a billion people every 12 years. Still. I think this is the technology that heals our world, meets all of our needs, gives us a better standard of living, cures our diseases.”

###

Andrew Hessel is the co-founder of Humane Genomics Inc., which engineers synthetic viruses to target cancer cells. He is the catalyst, chairman and co-executive director of the Genome Project-write / The Center of Excellence for Engineering Biology, an international research and development effort that lays the technical and societal foundations for responsible applications of synthetic biology. Also known as the Second Human Genome Project, its hundreds of scientists, engineers, and policymakers are on the global forefront of genome engineering working to address many of the global problems facing humanity. GP-write is leading the transformation of genome editing into genome writing using a suite of proprietary technologies. Developing a first-of-its-kind computer-aided design technology for genomes, the project works to advance knowledge of genetic diseases, produce novel biomaterials and develop biological solutions.

As an Autodesk Distinguished Researcher, Hessel led a multidisciplinary team exploring computer-aided design and manufacturing for biotechnology and nanotechnology R&D. He conducted state-of-the-art biological research at Amgen Institute and was the co-chair of Bioinformatics and Biotechnology at Singularity University, located at the NASA Research Park in Mountain View, California. He was the co-founder of the Pink Army Cooperative, the world’s first cooperative biotechnology company, which sought to make open-source viral therapies for cancer.

Andrew Hessel is available to advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting meetings, interactive workshops and customized keynotes through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers & Advisors, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Videos

Media

Splice of Life

April 2, 2022

The Life-Coder

March 9, 2022

How Synthetic Biology Touches ‘Every Form of Human Enterprise’ (Video)

March 8, 2022

Life-Changing Biology

March 3, 2022

The Future Of Biotechnology: The 4th Revolution (Video)

February 27, 2022

‘The Genesis Machine’: Examining the Future Shift Away From Traditional Farming Products to Lab Produced Foods

February 25, 2022

A Drunken Walk Through Science and a Back-up on a Hard Drive

February 22, 2022

Bring Back the Woolly Mammoth? Steal DNA? The Prospects and Pitfalls of Rewriting Life.

February 19, 2022

Hitting the Books: Lab-Grown Meat Is the Future, Just as Winston Churchill Predicted

February 19, 2022

Microbes Are the Future, and the Joy of Games: Books in Brief

February 18, 2022

What to (Maybe) Expect When You’re Expecting Fertility Biotech (Audio)

February 15, 2022

Amy Webb and Andrew Hessel: Is Rewriting Life via Synthetic Biology the Future? (Audio)

February 15, 2022

Genesis Machine: Synthetic Biology Will Allow Us to Program Living Organisms Like Computers

January 20, 2022

The Genesis Machine: Our Quest to Rewrite Life in the Age of Synthetic Biology

December 15, 2021

Meet Scientist Andrew Hessel, a Surfer Riding the Waves of Innovation in Synthetic Biology

August 27, 2021

Humane Genomics is 3D-Printing Oncolytic Viruses To Treat Rare Cancers

August 27, 2021

Messenger RNA Technology Might Kick-start a New Age of Vaccines (Audio)

March 25, 2021

The Age of Reinvention

January 20, 2021

Andrew Hessel - Microbiologist, Geneticist and Entrepreneur, and Founder, Human Genomics

October 2020

Andrew Hessel | Engineering Viruses to Fight Cancer (Audio)

June 5, 2020

CNN logo

The Next Pandemic Could Be Even Worse

April 29, 2020

ars technica

Printing Vaccines at the Pharmacy or At Home Will Be the Way of the Future

June 20, 2019

Emerging Biotech Industry & Its Talent Implications

April 1, 2019

The Business of Your DNA (Audio)

March 27, 2019

Technologies Are Agnostic. It's All About Human Intention

March 18, 2019

Forbes logo

The Biotech Innovation That Will Transform Society Has Arrived (Hint: It's Not CRISPR)

October 18, 2018

Biotech CEO: Genomics World to Get 'A Lot Weirder'

October 9, 2018

Who Will Be the Google of Genomics?

August 23, 2018

Technology + Biology = The Face of the Next IT Industry

May 10, 2018

Wired logo

The Next Best Version of Me: How to Live Forever

March 27, 2018

The Human Operating System Gets an Overhaul

February 1, 2018

Can Biohacking Cure Cancer, or Lead to Personalized Medicines?

September 29, 2017

Synthetic Biology (Audio)

August 24, 2017

Money is Still Missing as the Plan to Synthesize a Human Genome Takes Another Step Forward

May 8, 2017

Wired logo

Humans 2.0: These Geneticists Want to Create an Artificial Genome by Synthesizing Our DNA

February 26, 2017

Writing the First Human Genome by 2026 Is Synthetic Biology’s Grand Challenge

October 10, 2016

Exponential Medicine: The Most Advanced Nanotechnology Today Is Already Inside You

November 13, 2015

Forbes logo

3D Printed Virus To Attack Cancer Cells

October 29, 2014

Wired logo

Meet the Biologist Hacking 3D Printed Cancer-Fighting Viruses

October 16, 2014

The Gigaom Interview: Why Synthetic Biology & the Netflix Model Are the Future of Medicine

May 3, 2014

The Atlantic logo

Hacking the President’s DNA

November 2012

A-Z Name

Hessel, Andrew

Biography

Imagine a future where germ-detection systems are as ubiquitous as smoke detectors and the bio-manufacturing of not just medicines but also vaccines at pharmacies and doctors’ offices can quickly and cost-effectively address specific diseases or virus strains. A future where we can engineer cells to destroy cancer and fight the next viral outbreak before it becomes a global pandemic by architecting our immune systems. A future where millions of people are programming biological machines the way we currently program computer systems, creating new foods, materials, and biosystems to meet the needs of billions of people. A future where nothing goes extinct – in fact, the number of species is growing faster than anyone can count.

This is not science fiction. It is the world we are entering, one driven by synthetic biology, and pioneering geneticist and futurist Andrew Hessel is optimistically and ethically leading the way.

Co-author of the powerful new book, “The Genesis Machine: Our Quest to Rewrite Life in the Age of Synthetic Biology” (Public Affairs, February 2022) Hessel is a biotech and life sciences visionary and a foremost authority on cell biology and synthetically engineered life. Kirkus Reviews referred to the book as “a wrinkle on the near future that many readers will not have pondered—and should.”

“It is my firm belief that sustainable synthetic biology applications will create a better world for future generations, which is why I wrote this book,” says Hessel. “Programming biology is going to take us to the next level of manufacturing, recycling and producing new materials that nature gives us the hardware to do but evolution never selected it to do.”

A sought-after consultant to businesses and governments, Hessel speaks widely on a range of topics including cells as programmable living factories, viruses as an emerging software industry, the ethical uses of bioengineering and how to achieve effective biological safety and security. As an advisor and speaker, he helps leaders and investors across sectors understand and prepare for emerging opportunities in the biotech space. In the public sector, his extensive research on viruses allowed him and his colleagues to design a plan to prevent the next biological war.

Founder and past-president of Humane Genomics and co-executive director of the Genome Project-write (GPW), Hessel’s work focuses on improving the human experience, including preventing harmful viruses, curing diseases and addressing major issues like food scarcity and climate change.

“Why do we need to synthesize a human genome? We don’t,” explains Hessel in his prescient 2017 TEDxSanFrancisco Talk. “But we are synthesizing viruses and we don’t have things like standards, ethics, international collaborations, funding [and] networks, and we are not communicating well with the public. We need to think about this stuff now, not ten years from now.”

Hessel highlights the many ways advances in synthetic biology will impact every industry, from reproductive medicine, health care and consumer packaged goods to agriculture and energy. Engineered biomaterials offer attractive alternatives to oil-derived or natural products, with superior economics and control over the manufacturing processes, he points out. New technologies will also allow us to engineer plants and animals to better meet our nutritional needs without straining natural resources. And if age becomes a treatable pathology, financial services and insurance companies will need to rethink issues around life expectancy, retirement and related actuarial tables.

As the technology for designing and building life continues to advance, synthetic human genomes will soon be within reach. However, the benefits of merging computer science and life come with real and alarming risks that need to be understood and addressed. In his equally entertaining and informative presentations, Hessel discusses the promises and perils of synthetic biology including related ethical, political, legal, religious and social issues.

With his gaze fixed firmly on the future, Hessel has an unmatched ability to guide today’s decision makers toward unimagined future opportunities that will emerge from an area of science that promises to dramatically improve life on planet earth, for all its inhabitants.

“Biology is the only sustainable technology that we have,” he adds. “You don’t have to mow down a rain forest. You just make the forest work for you. It’s infinitely scalable, it’s not going away, it’s been around for four billion years and it has a simple programming language that is universal. We are adding a billion people every 12 years. Still. I think this is the technology that heals our world, meets all of our needs, gives us a better standard of living, cures our diseases.”

###

Andrew Hessel is the co-founder of Humane Genomics Inc., which engineers synthetic viruses to target cancer cells. He is the catalyst, chairman and co-executive director of the Genome Project-write / The Center of Excellence for Engineering Biology, an international research and development effort that lays the technical and societal foundations for responsible applications of synthetic biology. Also known as the Second Human Genome Project, its hundreds of scientists, engineers, and policymakers are on the global forefront of genome engineering working to address many of the global problems facing humanity. GP-write is leading the transformation of genome editing into genome writing using a suite of proprietary technologies. Developing a first-of-its-kind computer-aided design technology for genomes, the project works to advance knowledge of genetic diseases, produce novel biomaterials and develop biological solutions.

As an Autodesk Distinguished Researcher, Hessel led a multidisciplinary team exploring computer-aided design and manufacturing for biotechnology and nanotechnology R&D. He conducted state-of-the-art biological research at Amgen Institute and was the co-chair of Bioinformatics and Biotechnology at Singularity University, located at the NASA Research Park in Mountain View, California. He was the co-founder of the Pink Army Cooperative, the world’s first cooperative biotechnology company, which sought to make open-source viral therapies for cancer.

Andrew Hessel is available to advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting meetings, interactive workshops and customized keynotes through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers & Advisors, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Speech Topics

Preparing for the Future: How Synthetic Biology Will Revolutionize Business and Society

We are living through an era of profound and rapid change, requiring business leaders and citizens to address unique and pressing challenges. Technology offers much promise, but it must also be kept in check. In this talk, renowned biotech and life sciences visionary Andrew Hessel – a global authority on ethical approaches to synthetically engineering life – explains how synthetic biology and related new sciences could potentially solve or mitigate some of the most critical problems facing humanity, from food scarcity, infertility and species extinction to climate change, chronic disease and viral outbreaks – as long as we ensure it is developed and applied ethically. Drawing from the powerful new book he co-authored, “The Genesis Machine: Our Quest to Rewrite Life in the Age of Synthetic Biology” (Public Affairs, February 2022), he shares stories and personal anecdotes, reveals fascinating, previously unimaginable innovations that loom on the horizon and explains how synthetic biology is poised to transform business, government and society in ways that can help us create a more sustainable future.

Engineering Life: How Biology Will Be the Defining Science of the 21st Century

The revolutionary technology of the 20th century was digital: the computer and the internet radically changed the way we live, learn, and work. Andrew Hessel says the next leap forward will be far more fundamental; we will be able to synthetically engineer every single species on earth. Following the success of reading the human genome, Hessel is on the cutting edge of writing it. A leading futurist, Hessel presents a vision of how we will all be impacted by the scientific ability to engineer organisms, ensuring greater biological security for all forms of life. As today’s executives focus on existing technology, innovation, and competitiveness in the present, Hessel stands firmly in the future, translating the scientific breakthroughs of tomorrow into economic impacts and implications for businesses. Just as the digital revolution impacted and transformed every business in the world, so too will every industry be subject to the revolution in bioengineering.

Human Bioengineering: The Realization of Personalized Medicine

With more mysteries of the human genome solved, scientists can now embark upon biology’s next frontier: engineering synthetic human genomes. As DNA design, synthesis and assembly technologies advance, Andrew Hessel believes this is possible not in the distant future, but within decades. Already, smaller synthetic genomes are within reach and changing health care, he explains. By synthesizing disease-fighting viruses, we can make cancer a manageable disease. And more broadly, the “one-size-fits-none” method of mass drug manufacturing will give way to personalized medicines, allowing doctors to customize therapies.

In this presentation, Hessel explains how scientists can synthesize DNA to revolutionize drug production and treatment, in language that is easily relatable to a non-scientific audience. Likening the breakthrough to the disruption of the digital economy, he asserts that the “Blockbuster” drug industry of mass retail will give way to a “Netflix” model of personalized streaming of medicines. Scientists increasingly have the means to develop new technologies in conjunction with doctors and medical professionals to optimize individual treatments. Hessel has a clear vision for translating the data about human biology into life-saving action.

Media

Array

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Praise for “The Genesis Machine”

“’The Genesis Machine’ is a very readable story about how the DNA world is shifting from reading the genetic code to writing and editing it. Amy Webb and Andrew Hessel then take the reader on a journey of possible world changing events that could result from this new technology.”

– J. Craig Venter, PhD, author of “Life at the Speed of Life” and CEO of JCVI

“This spectacular and highly accessible book clearly and thoughtfully examines the most important revolution of our lives––and of life itself. Understanding how we and future generations will use the tools of synthetic biology to transform the worlds inside and around us is essential to being an informed and empowered person and citizen in the twenty-first century. ‘The Genesis Machine’ is a guide to exactly that and a must-read book.”

– Jamie Metzl, member of WHO expert committee on human genome editing and author of “Hacking Darwin”

“You may not realize it yet, but your life—and all of life itself—is about to change. From programmable genes to designer medicines, synthetic biology is going to transform everything. ‘The Genesis Machine’ is a surprisingly intimate, incisive, and readable guide to the opportunities, risks, and moral dilemmas of the brave new world ahead.”

– Steven Strogatz, Cornell University, author of “Infinite Powers”

“If future technologies arrive gradually and then seemingly all at once, then the biotech-driven future is poised to arrive in ways that are far beyond the reach of our imaginations and at the same time knocking at our doors right now. Amy Webb and Andrew Hessel offer an essential guide to understanding biotech frontiers, and they outline important questions and approaches to consider now. An essential book for business leaders.”

– Beth Comstock, author of “Imagine It Forward” and former vice chair, GE

“’The Genesis Machine’ is a tour de force! Amy Webb and Andrew Hessel masterfully reveal the emerging network of forces—people, labs, computer systems, government agencies, and businesses—that will drive humanity’s next great transformation. Their fascinating (and frightening) conclusions—that the human ecosystem can actually become programmed—will touch every facet of our lives in the future. This brilliant work is an absolute must-read for national security professionals and defense planners who need to understand the complex dynamics at play in the future competition for bio-hegemony.”

— Dr. Jake Sotiriadis, chief futurist, United States Air Force

“We can now program biological systems like we program computers, with artificial intelligence and machine learning accelerating the speed of innovation and applications of synthetic biology. In an accessible and fascinating narrative, ‘The Genesis Machine’ lays out a roadmap for this interdisciplinary field of synthetic biology that is forever reshaping life as we know it.”

– Rana el Kaliouby, author of “Girl Decoded” and deputy CEO, Smart Eye

“Are latest innovations in synthetic biology simply a miracle that ends a crisis or a breakthrough to an entirely new way of living? That’s the question futurist Amy Webb and microbiologist Andrew Hessel reveal for us with this fascinating book. The history of the world is a history of unintended consequences, for better and for worse, and Webb and Hessel capture the coming fusion of tech and biology in vivid detail.”

– Ian Bremmer, author of “Collision Course”

“’The Genesis Machine’ is fantastic, explaining how genetic code is the alphabet in which much of the future will be written. Amy Webb and Andrew Hessel have taken the very complicated subject of synthetic biology and made it understandable with sharp prose and sharp analysis that cut through mysteries of science and twenty-first-century humanism.”

– Alec Ross, author of “The Industries of the Future” and “The Raging 2020s”

“A look at the coming revolution in biotechnology, with all its possible goods and evils. ‘A great transformation of life is underway,’ write futurist Webb and geneticist Hessel. The rising field of synthetic biology, with its underlying technology of gene editing, will allow for numerous things that do not yet exist, including the ability to sequence the genome of a virus nearly immediately, affording scientists a vast library of viruses that will provide the wherewithal to “cure any genetic disease in humankind.” That revolution, the authors write, will remake food, energy, transportation, the supply chain, and commerce as a whole. Granted, write Webb and Hessel, this is a vast Pandora’s box. Synthetic biology is largely the province of corporations and governments in the developed world, and it is not outside the realm of reason to think that a corporation might maximize profit or a government, political gain through its ability to control the food supply and indeed the genetic library of the planet. The problem, as the authors note in deeply researched but accessible prose, is that there is little in the way of coherence in terms of international agreements or “consensus on the acceptable circumstances under which humans should manipulate human, animal, or plant life.” Part of that problem is the generally laissez faire attitude of some governments, especially the U.S., to develop regulations that “don’t intervene until there’s a problem, so as not to stifle innovations.” Because the current regulatory climate isn’t well structured for future-proofing, one important step is the development of a body of law and convention acknowledging that “this new approach to biology warrants a new approach to regulation,” balancing the public good with scientific and commercial interests. The authors propose planks of a platform to this end while noting the difficulty of reining in tech-driven countries such as China to honor international licensing systems and other controls.

A wrinkle on the near future that many readers will not have pondered—and should.”

Kirkus Reviews

“In this thought-provoking introduction to synthetic biology, hope and worry go hand-in-hand when considering the vast potential of biotechnologies (DNA synthesis, genome editing) restyling life and even creating new organisms. And while the ability to transform life at its most fundamental level promises wonderful benefits (the elimination of diseases, an abundant global food supply, environmental assistance), the power to reprogram life raises multiple ethical and moral concerns. Who controls this awesome skill (scientists, governments, or entrepreneurs?) and how? What about cost and equitable accessibility to its medical use, the rush to enhancements, and the specter of eugenics? Genetically engineered twin babies in China, the making of a super rice, a ‘gene drive’ that modifies the genetics of disease-carrying mosquitoes are examples of synthetic biology’s recent feats. Webb and Hessel recount landmark biotech moments, such as bioengineering bacterial cells to produce human insulin, and discuss a variety of molecular biology tools and methodologies, from CRISPR to bioreactors, modern DNA synthesizers, and a digital-to-biological converter. Synthetic biology is breathtaking science, but it is also scary. Who’s in charge, and where are the brakes?”

– Booklist

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