Voices from DARPA
Episode 20: The Genomineer
In this episode of the Voices from DARPA podcast, Renee Wegrzyn, a program manager since 2016 in the Agency’s Biological Technologies Office (BTO), recounts the origins of her current interests in synthetic biology and genomics, both of them powerful frameworks for engineering biological systems for technological ends. Still wielding influence are her childhood days amidst Florida’s abundant wildlife, a science-hooked sister, and a high school field trip in which Renee encountered fossil mastodon teeth. Her subsequent experience in the biotechnology industry got her hooked on the versatile power of combining biology and engineering in ways that can produce new medical technologies, materials, and other products. Along the way, Wegrzyn recounts what for her was a “Sputnik moment” in biology, based on the emergence of the celebrity gene-editing toolset known for short as CRISPR, which has underwritten an immensely powerful genetic and genomic engineering framework. Under Renee’s DARPA programs, Living Foundries and Safe Genes, researchers are innovating new means of manipulating and leveraging biology’s ways of eliciting traits in organisms and of making molecules and materials while also developing means for keeping those same bioengineering capabilities in check to hedge against their misuse or unintended consequences.