Built with Biology: Race Against the Clock

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Guest article contributed by Dr. Terri Quenzer, MiraCosta College.

Time is running out. We need to stop global warming from heating the earth’s temperature by another 1.5 °C before it’s too late. We must do this no later than 2050, preferably sooner, and we’re already late to the party.

Race Against the Clock (RATC) is a call to our future leaders, i.e., today’s students, to take charge with synthetic biology/biological engineering, entrepreneurship, and storytelling for a sustainable, environmentally friendly future that feeds, heals, cleans, and fuels the world.

Built with Biology, Ginkgo Bioworks, and Schmidt Futures recognize that the future of our planet lies in the hands of today’s students, and gave California Community College students and faculty the opportunity to attend April 14, 2022 Race Against the Clock, an all-day event at the Built with Biology (formerly SynBioBeta) Conference in Oakland, CA. Thanks to sponsorship by Ginkgo Bioworks and Schmidt Futures, attendance was free to community college students and faculty, and travel grants were provided to enable students from outside of the Bay Area to attend the conference.

California community college students and faculty at Built with Biology's Race Against the Clock (RATC). 


Life changing.

The energy, the content, the science, the stories. It was so fresh! It was about the students, and sharing pathways to success of startup Founders and CEOs that in many cases are not traditional or linear. I’ve been to many conferences, and never have I experienced the energy and buzz experienced by everyone at this conference. And never have I been to a conference that not only invited and welcomed community college students, but that truly valued and treated community college students as professionals.

This eye-opening conference provided a life changing experience for the diverse group of students that attended. They witnessed the magic of biology first hand, including honey made without bees (Melibio), healthier tomatoes that are purple throughout and have a longer shelf life (Norfolk Plant Sciences), bioluminescent petunias that glow in the dark (LightBio), photons used for rapid manipulation of thousands of cells for discovery of cell therapies (BerkeleyLIGHTS), biodegradable “Styrofoam” and other packing materials made from mycelium (mushrooms), biodegradable and edible cups and straws made from seaweed (Loliware), and backcountry alpine skis and snowboards made from algae instead of petroleum products (Checkerspot/ WNDR Alpine) to name a few.

Students got to see and hold products in their hands that today seem futuristic and impossible. If we can create these things now with biology, imagine what we can do in the future - it’s only going to get better! Being at the conference and seeing real products of biological engineering showed students real examples of what’s possible with concepts they are learning about in class such as cells, bacteria, fermentation, CRISPR, and more. And it gave them hope and made them excited about potential careers in synthetic biology/biological engineering, and the possibility that they might apply what they are learning about biology to solve real world problems.


Do what makes your heart sing.

We’ve all been told that if we want to have a successful career in Biology (or other science), to go to a good school, work hard, get a degree, then go to graduate school and work harder to get an advanced degree. But that doesn’t always guarantee a successful career in science. Through storytelling and talking to startup Founders and CEOs, students got to learn about alternative nontraditional, nonlinear pathways to successful careers that they often don’t hear about from their parents, teachers, and other adults. They learned that their experiences that they think are not “resume-worthy” could turn out to be the experiences that have the most impact on their success. They learned that they don’t have to be the smartest person in the building to be successful. They learned that often the most successful people are not the smartest ones, that they are successful because they know to surround themselves with smart people with diverse thinking and skills. They learned that success in biological engineering requires more than just scientists. And they learned that they can do their best work when they do what makes their heart sing. If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.

Community college students and faculty from Laney, Skyline, Solano, American River, LA Pierce, Santa Monica, and MiraCosta Colleges attended RATC. Students left the conference inspired and excited to turn a biology or biotechnology course into a career pathway. Faculty left the conference inspired and excited to introduce modern examples of bioscience to their students. This was a day that will stand out for years to come.

I want to give a shout out and a very special thanks to Seth Peachey, Ivan Jaubert, and Frank Tate of Built with Biology for their tireless passion for the planet, for our students, and for our future. We are forever grateful to you! And to Zoë Hermsen, you are an angel on my shoulder.

Note:  There will be another RACT event October 22 in Houston.

Terri Quenzer, PhD
MiraCosta College

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