Arguably the most recognizable formula. But have you ever really stopped to think about what that means? Energy and mass are the same thing, with just some weird light constant multiplier to balance out the fact that they are seemingly really different. Intuitively you know this concept when you throw a log on the fire and you watch mass release its energy in the forms of light and heat. That Einstein guy sure was smart, but its elegance is in its simplicity is equally impressive. In other words, mass is just goopy energy – that’s a bit mind-boggling when you think about it!

I just returned from BIO’s World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology held in Des Moines Iowa. ~900 delegates attended from ~30 countries to learn more, and share information about how industrial biotechnology can solve some of the world’s biggest challenges. Many of the topics ranged from fuels, chemicals and a notable emerging emphasis on nutrition.

I was fortunate to participate on the panel ‘Disrupting the Future: The Impact of Synthetic Biology on Food, Ag, and Material Science’ discussing how we will reshape the global food supply chain in an era with an ever-warmer planet and a population approaching 10 billion people by 2050. I was joined on the panel by AgBiome, who is developing an agricultural platform to harness the plant microbiome for pesticide applications and Arzeda, who uses their custom protein and computational biology tools to engineer designer molecules for a broad number of applications. The panel moderated by Tim Staub.

When you figure nearly 4 billion years of biochemical diversity through the evolution of life on Earth, we have quite a catalog of pathways and molecules to select from. Add in today’s biotechnology tools that are coming online at a rapid clip, and the range of possibilities is absolutely fascinating. True “Bio-Hacking” is not about maximizing sleep routines, but it’s more like point-and-click microbial factories to produce molecules of interest to solve some of humanity’s biggest problems. KnipBio is doing this for animal nutrition.

Microbes are extremely efficient, in part due to being at the lowest trophic level (i.e. bottom of the food pyramid) and with rapid doubling times. Fermentations are highly controlled processes with precise nutrient accounting, perfect for the block chain era we are in. Given that microbes have been tinkering with the interface between mass and energy for their own metabolisms for essentially forever, they are the most diverse version of E=MC2 for biology. The seeming move towards food security at BIO World Congress further demonstrates the relative interplay between energy and food.

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