February 25, 2022

Amy Webb and Andrew Hessel

Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes celebrated biotechnologists AMY WEBB and ANDREW HESSELL for a discussion of co-authored book, The Genesis Machine: Our Quest to Rewrite Life in the Age of Synthetic Biology.


Synthetic biology will revolutionize how we define family, how we identify disease and treat aging, where we make our homes, and how we nourish ourselves. This fast-growing field—which uses computers to modify or rewrite genetic code—has created revolutionary, groundbreaking solutions such as the mRNA COVID vaccines, IVF, and lab-grown hamburger that tastes like the real thing. It gives us options to deal with existential threats: climate change, food insecurity, and access to fuel.

But there are significant risks.

Who should decide how to engineer living organisms? Whether engineered organisms should be planted, farmed, and released into the wild? Should there be limits to human enhancements? What cyber-biological risks are looming? Could a future biological war, using engineered organisms, cause a mass extinction event?

Amy Webb and Andrew Hessel’s riveting examination of synthetic biology and the bioeconomy provide the background for thinking through the upcoming risks and moral dilemmas posed by redesigning life, as well as the vast opportunities waiting for us on the horizon.

About Author(s)

Amy Webb is a quantitative futurist, founder of the Future Today Institute, and award-winning author of The Big Nine and The Signals Are Talking. She writes extensively about biotechnology, artificial intelligence, technology policy, and business strategy, regularly contributing to publications including Harvard Business Review, the New York TimesWiredFortuneMother JonesMIT Sloan Management Review, and others. Her future forecasting work has been featured in the Wall Street JournalNew York TimesHarvard Business ReviewFast Company, CNN, NPR, PBS and many more outlets. Her TED Talk has received more than 8 million views and she annually presents FTI’s Tech Trends Report in a keynote address at SXSW.

Andrew Hessel is a microbiologist and geneticist who has worked on the leading edge of genomics, bioinformatics, and synthetic biology. He is the CEO of Humane Genomics Inc., a seed-stage company developing virus-based therapies for cancer, starting with dogs. He is a co-founder of the Genome Project-write, the international scientific effort working to engineer large genomes, including the human genome. From 2012-2017 Andrew was the Distinguished Researcher at Autodesk Life Sciences. He has been Singularity University faculty since 2009. His goal is to help people better understand and use living systems to meet the needs of society.