"For Jaime Sotomayor, discovering biotechnology during a summer program at Singularity University was a revelation. “Microorganisms are like machines, reprogrammable robots”, says this systems engineer and entrepreneur from Lima (Peru). By applying this IT-based mentality, together with three partners, Sotomayor founded Arcturus BioCloud in 2014 with the aim of automating genetic engineering processes, which would allow anyone to access the world of synthetic biology.
The web-based platform´s interface offers the user a guided process for designing transgenic bacteria á la carte by choosing from a series of options. This tool is complemented by a robot that automates the synthesis protocols of the desired transgenic materials. Without the need for extensive knowledge of molecular biology or programming, anyone can design something that expresses the desired genes. For example, it would be possible to create a transgenic bacteria that expresses the insulin gene and that the user would receive at home a few days later.
From high school students to the founders of biotechnological startups, and including biohackers and other open scientific groups, Arcturus BioCloud offers an automated laboratory in the cloud to anyone who wishes to explore synthetic biology and has the ideas but not the necessary equipment. “The innovation goes beyond the machines,” according to the entrepreneur.
Arcturus BioCloud has competitors in the research market that offer remote access to laboratory equipment, but they require the user to possess Python programming skills. “Biologists are not software engineers,” Sotomayor points out.
For now, Arcturus BioCloud is in the beta test phase, but upcoming iterations (the next is scheduled for completion within the next three months) aim to provide more functionalities in order to offer not only materials but also complete genetic expression studies. These advances will allow remote experiments to be performed with the desired sequences without the need for laboratory equipment. Currently the basic service costs 80 dollars (approximately 70 euros) and the price increases according to the complexity of the order.
One of the defining characteristics of Arcturus BioCloud is that each user can decide whether to make their projects public and share them with the user community. In fact, the website includes a discussion forum where users can share their experiences and knowledge and initiate common projects. Two of these users are active participants in the testing phase of the upcoming versions of the platform.
The professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech, USA) and jury member for MIT Technology Review´s Innovator Under 35 Peru 2015 awards, Guruswami Ravichandran, highlights that Sotomayor “has the perfect spirit to found a startup in Silicon Valley” and obtain seed financing from the venture capital firm SOSVentures. Currently Arcturus BioCloud is being accelerated by IndieBio in a second round of an investor capture exercise."