Synbiobeta Lightning Talk 2016

This is a transcript of Will Canine's talk at Synbiobeta SF 2016


Hi everyone - I’m Will Canine, co-founder of Opentrons. We make a $5,000 pipetting robot designed to share automated protocols. We’re a two year old Y Combinator and Khosla Ventures backed start-up in 132 labs including some at Stanford, Harvard, and the Mayo Clinic. Our users-base is in over 21 countries and is doubling every 6 months.

The Carlson Curve aka biotech's Moore's Law

Many of us are familiar with the idea that Biotech is on its own Moore’s law. Innovation is accelerating because of exponentially cheaper DNA synthesis and sequencing. But I want to focus on another dimension to that story.

Computers became accessible

When we look back at the ‘personal computing revolution,’ we must remember that the acceleration in innovation was not simply created just because computers got faster. Computers became more accessible. More people, and even more importantly, more types of people, were able to use computers. People could bring them into new types of environments and thus apply them to new types of problems.

Lab tools lag behind bio tools

While sophisticated biological tools have become more accessible, sophisticated lab tools have not. We have lasers building synthetic DNA, but people are often still using their hands and some plastic pipettes to do anything with it. We need accessible lab automation for people to truly take advantage of this new biological technology.

Accessible lab automation

And that’s what Opentrons is. An accessible software and hardware platform for easily running automated experiments in your own lab. We believe that we can unleash a huge new universe of biotechs by giving people access to easy-to-use lab robots.

For the rest of my talk I’m going to focus on a few of particular user stories that illustrate how our accessible tools are unleashing the next wave of innovation in biotechnology.

Opentrons User - Glowee

Glowee is a French startup making bioluminescent shop-front lighting. Basically, nature's answer to the neon sign.

Lean Startup Automation

Glowee has a fully automated mutagenesis workflow they use to increase their products’ luminescence. Their pipeline consists of an OT-One PRO and a refurbished colony and cost under them under $12K. It has allowed them to do hundreds of optimization cycles in just the last few months and they make measurable progress every time they run the robots.

Orders of magnitude more affordable robots like Opentrons mean automation is not the prohibitively expensive as it once was. Now it is available to a lean start-up. The next generation of great consumer bio-products will be made at least in part by robots.

I dont have time to mention the worlkflows we’re developingn with our academic users like Dana Farber Cancer Inistitute or the Stanford Mass Spec Core -- ask me later -- but I do want to highlight two companies building their business on top of our platform.

Yan - selling a software product on Opentrons' platform

Yan, which is Mandarin for Eye, is building computer vision software for liquid handling robots. It does auto calibration and error correction. Even to of the line machines don’t have computer vision, and no start-up has been able to build it because these big lab robots are completely closed platforms. But with Opentrons, Yan can not only prototype but sell their software kit on top of our platform. To continue the computing analogy, if we are the iPhone, they are Square.

Lifengine - selling a reagent product on top of Opentrons' platform

Lifengine is a start-up from the Mayo Clinic. The Ekker lab put out the first paper citing Opentrons in the Journal of Human Gene Therapy this spring. It detailed FusX, a single pot TALEN synthesis system. Basically, you combine the right parts together from their DNA library and you get the targeted gene editing protein you want.

Combinatorial assemblies are tedious and error-prone by hand, but something a robot does really well. That’s why they built the protocol onto Opentrons. Now, users can type in their 15 base pair target sequence into our web app, put Lifengine’s FusX reagent kits on the deck, and hit ‘run’ to basically ‘print’ a TALEN.

This type of innovation, the FusX kit, usually sits in an add-gene catalog. But with Opentrons, a new pathway is available. Lifengine was able to create a plug-and-play system with a built in market of 130 labs and growing. Rather than hire a global sales force like a traditional reagent company, they can distribute through our ‘app store,’ staying lean and focusing on innovating their product.


That’s all the stories I have time for now, but if you want to hear more, or to talk about how you can use Opentrons to accelerate your work, come talk to me. Thanks!