Machine learning and artificial intelligence are all the rage today in venture capital circles. We've seen spectacular exits in the past few years, from Google absorbing Deepmind in 2014 for $500 million, to Twitter buying TellApart in 2015 for $533 million, and Intel swallowing Nervana in 2016 for $400 million. But these were all IT plays.
What happens when machine learning meets biology?
Berkeley-based Lygos is engineering and designing microbes that convert low-cost sugar into high-value, specialty chemicals. At the core, they're developing and exploiting a number of tools, both software and hardware, and applying them to biology. Ultimately, the ability to design and optimize microbes, or program them, is becoming faster and cheaper than ever before. This is being fueled by cutting-edge advances in data science and biotech, and the rapidly dropping cost of reading, writing, and editing DNA (a trend that's even faster than Moore's Law for computing).
Cloudera co-founder Jeff Hammerbacher once declared, "The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click Ads. That sucks." He was right about the "suckiness," but perhaps some of those best minds are working on things that are far more substantial in their impact.
SEE Big data's biggest impact is not on Silicon Valley
Take, for example, Eric Steen, co-founder and CEO of Lygos, an interesting new startup that aims to become the next DuPont, but not in the traditional way.