Discover more from The Century of Biology
Reflections on the first year of this newsletter; thoughts on what to do next
I’ve been writing this newsletter for over a year.
I’ve been asked several times now about what motivated me to get started. Reflecting on this, I think that I had two primary motivations: 1) distillation, and 2) sharing my excitement.
First, as a researcher, I wanted to combat the sensation of being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of exciting new results being generated across biology and biotechnology. We have also reached an important inflection point in the way that we share our results with each other—the adoption of preprints has grown at a staggering rate.
Now, when the human reference genome was completed, the work was shared openly on the Internet as a preprint two years before it ended up in Science. This introduces a new problem: researchers have to scan through the increasing number of preprints posted each day in order to find groundbreaking advances like this one.
My goal has been to provide a small contribution to this problem. When a preprint gets me really excited, I try to summarize the advances made in a clear and digestible way. It reminds me of a quote from Hugh Howey, one of my favorite science fiction writers: “For me, true creativity is seeing the individual human like a filter, like a coffee filter. You push all this stuff through: popular culture, life experiences, upbringing, genetic makeup. What drips out is the way they distill all that knowledge and all those experiences. It’s different for every person, and people are creative in ways they don’t even appreciate.”
I try to use my various scientific and engineering experiences to provide color and context to the new advances and inventions that excite me the most.
Beyond distillation, my goal has been to share some of my profound excitement for what is becoming possible with biotechnology. Our current news cycle is brutal. We are living through a pandemic, a war, and an erosion of trust and connection in many societies. A large focus of tech journalism is to cover congressional testimonies from social media CEOs. Meanwhile, in academic labs and startups across the world, a revolution is quietly brewing.
It isn’t on the front page, but biotechnology is accelerating in ways that could lead to an abundant and prosperous future on Earth and beyond.
With these two goals, I have ended up with two types of readers. My initial expectation was that only researchers would find my posts interesting, and I had a modest goal of gaining 100 subscribers in the first year. To my surprise, I passed this goal in the first 24 hours. This newsletter has gained interest beyond scientists. Tech and biotech founders, journalists, investors, engineers, designers, and generally curious learners have subscribed to learn more about progress in biotechnology.
With this growth in readers, I now need to grow as a writer. I have many ideas for new types of posts. For researchers, I want to focus on keeping my posts about new preprints more concise. I have realized that my posts have grown in length over time—which goes against my goal of distillation! This will also give me more time to explore different types of posts that provide summaries of a higher volume of preprints over the next year.
For general readers, I want to expand the scope of what I write about. Beyond preprints, I want to talk about some of the broad technological trends that most excite me, and to provide historical context for current science. I also want to explore the founder-led biotech movement. Incredibly talented young scientists—including many of my friends—are founding or working at new companies with incredibly ambitious goals and technology. I want to share some of their stories and visions for the future.
I really appreciate your support so far, and hope that you’ll enjoy what comes next as I continue to explore and find my voice as a writer. 🧬