This article appeared in Bostinno on Feb 4th 2016, and the full feature can be accessed from their website
This Harvard Startup Is Sending Its DNA Machine to Space
MiniPCR – the startup that’s bringing DNA technology to the masses – has started to grow so much that it’s out of this world. Literally. The company will be sending one of its machines up to space this spring as the result of an annual contest it’s started.
It doesn’t stop there. According to the founders, Ezequiel (“Zeke”) Alvarez-Saavedra and Sebastian Kraves, NASA intends to take their machines to the space station to do its own experimentation.
To keep it high-level, a PCR machine allows people to conduct DNA analysis for a multitude of purposes, including forensics, pharmaceuticals and even agriculture. Although PCR technology isn’t new, the machines are normally big and bulky, expensive and require a great deal of power to work. miniPCR is a PCR machine that is just as effective, but, as the name implies, is far more compact, battery-operated and inexpensive.
Alvarez-Saavedra and Kraves, who both hold PhDs in the sciences, explained that their own education pushed them to invent an improved PCR machine. Beginning in middle school, they noticed their abilities to learn was limited because the equipment needed to explore modern, more advanced scientific concepts was so expensive.
“There was essentially nothing to do biology with…We’re trying to change what we had found growing up – a lack of access to the necessary tools,” said Alvarez-Saavedra. “There are a bunch of reasons for that: Mainly, these tools have been expensive so it’s been hard to afford them.”
Kraves added,“The idea in our head is that we could help teachers teach biology in the 21st century.”
miniPCR and its partner Boeing where inspired to form their Genes in Space Competition, which asks students to design an experiment to be done in space. The winning student will actually have his or her experiment flown up to the space station to be carried out. This is the second year that the startup is holding this contest as a means to increase STEM awareness in schools. Last year’s winner is having her experiment rocketed up to space in May.
Now that the startup is spreading its product’s reach to space, what’s on tap next? The founders shared that they’re about to launch a new piece of equipment that should make a major impact in the realm of scientific research and prompt the company to grow.
“We’re launching our DNA discovery system, which is essentially a biotech lab for under $1,000,” according to Alvarez-Saavedra. “We already have pre-orders for almost 200 of these systems. We think it’s going to be a big year for us.”
“We’re self-sustaining and growing. We’re committed to mission and trying to keep it going through own operations rather than taking investments,” Kraves said. “Our main goal is to enable biology…The ultimate milestone is to guarantee that every person gets their hands on DNA technology, but that’s very ambitious for this year.”
Read the full Bostinno feature on miniPCR here.