Flagship Principal Named Tech Review Innovator of the Year

8/15/07

Our old friends at Technology Review announced their innovator of the year today: Flagship Ventures’ David Berry. Steve Hall has a nice profile of Berry, a Harvard-and-MIT-trained MD/PhD who has been a principal at Flagship for the last couple of years. Hall focuses particularly on Berry’s work with San Carlos, CA-based LS9, a synthetic-biology firm co-founded by Xconomist George Church to produce biofuels. As Hall describes it, “Berry took the lead in designing a system that allowed LS9 researchers to alter the metabolic machinery of microörganisms, turning them into living hydrocarbon refineries.”

Tech Review‘s recognition of Berry and LS9 fits with what we’ve been hearing from some of our Xconomists and other sources about synthetic biology recently—that the most interesting efforts in the area right now are the ones focused on using microbes to produce energy. My question on that take is, are synthetic biology and energy really an intrinsically good fit, or is pairing them more a way for young companies to simultaneously capitalize on the current frenzy around alternative energy and avoid the regulatory hassles of pursuing biomedical applications?

For his part, Berry told us that synthetic biology firms’ current focus on biofuel production is “really just the beginning of a trend which is going to be much broader in synthetic biology, toward specialty and commodity chemicals—energy really is a commodity chemical at the end of the day.” Either way, it will be interesting to see what the young field will produce as that day wears on.

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