Five Pioneering Female Leaders in Synthetic Biology

February 8, 2017

The issue of gender diversity in the workplace has taken a front-and-center standing across many industries of late, science and biotech notwithstanding. The lack of women in leadership roles within many organizations and companies is now being recognized, to a greater extent than ever before, as a problem warranting attention. Many companies are now taking steps to address and rectify the gender imbalance in biotech leadership, including the 100 Massachusetts biotech firms that pledged to improve gender diversity in an open letter last month, as well as startups like Ginkgo Bioworks that are taking measures to promote gender diversity early on in their business development.Even as more players in synthetic biology take up the cause of promoting leadership equality for women, studies have cited a lack of female role models in science and engineering as one barrier to achieving this goal. With that in mind, we’d like to offer closer look at five women who are leading the synthetic biology industry to success, all of whom will be speaking at SynBioBeta London 2017 on April 4-6 at Imperial College LondonTahel Altman is the CEO of SynVaccine, an Israel-based maker of vaccines and immunotherapies for infectious disease and cancer. SynVaccine was founded out of the Rad Biomed accelerator with a technology platform based on rational design of viral-based products through the use of computational models.“Biological systems, such as viruses and their interaction with the host, are extremely complicated and seemingly unpredictable. Thus, their rational design based on a computer may sounds impossible,” she said. “Nevertheless, via a combination of relevant large scale experiments, accurate parameters inference, and modeling, computational synthetic biology is extremely useful. We would like to emphasize the need for computational approaches in synthetic biology.”Prior to founding SynVaccine, Tahel was involved in a number of other healthcare startups, including ART Health Care Ltd. and TopgeniX Inc. She holds several synthetic biology and medical device patents. Tahel is a graduate of the Stanford Biodesign Innovation Fellowship and obtained her MD from Tel Aviv University.Emily Leproust is the co-founder and CEO of synthetic DNA manufacturer Twist Bioscience. Emily received her PhD in Organic Chemistry from the University of Houston, after which she was employed as a scientist and director at Agilent Technologies for 13 years. Four years ago, she founded Twist, a company that has quickly rocketed to the forefront of the synthetic biology industry as a leading provider of synthetic DNA. During its short existence, Twist has established a diverse portfolio of supply agreements with companies such as Microsoft, Ginkgo Bioworks, and others, as well as ramped up its platform to deliver a wider range of DNA products. Emily commented on the issue of gender diversity in biotech, saying “In every industry, particularly those with a scientific foundation, we need enlightened and diverse leadership. This includes gender diversity, cultural diversity, strength diversity to name just a few. Diverse leadership teams have more conflict, though they get more done in a differentiated manner. At Twist Bioscience, we are not just moving the needle, we are changing the dynamics of DNA synthesis by applying this philosophy; and it's working!”Amy Liao is the co-founder and CEO of GENEWIZ, a leading global provider of DNA services including Sanger and next-generation sequencing, gene synthesis, and more. Amy received her PhD in Biochemistry from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. After completing a postdoctoral position at Columbia University, she went on to found GENEWIZ in 1999. By 2010, GENEWIZ was the largest provider of Sanger sequencing services in the US. With eight laboratory locations throughout the US and four more abroad, GENEWIZ is now a powerful international presence in the DNA services industry. Amy’s company has landed on the New Jersey Business Journal’s list of fifty fastest growing companies every year since 2011 and has received multiple accolades for its growth and business strategy. In 2010, Amy and fellow GENEWIZ cofounder Steve Sun were named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in the Service category for New Jersey.Sandra Rey is the founder and CEO of Glowee, a Paris-based developer of bioluminescent light sources. Glowee seeks to a new way to produce and consume light, harnessing the natural bioluminescence of marine microbes to create self-sufficient light sources that are “off the grid.” Her company’s product market ranges from eco-friendly urban landscaping to art installations to home use in developing nations where infrastructure does not support electrical lighting. Sandra holds a master’s degree in industrial design from Strate College and a certification in social entrepreneurship from ESCP Europe. She was recently named one of the top ten French Innovators Under 35 by the MIT Technology Review.Irina Makkaveeva is the Co-Founder and CFO of, a research protocol sharing platform for scientists and vendors in the biotech industry. Irina received her master’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Memphis and her MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Prior to heading up, she worked as both a software developer and financial analyst at various firms. Irina co-founded in 2012, and the software is now used by researchers at Stanford, U.C. Berkeley, and other institutions. The company’s mission is to streamline communication and information sharing across laboratories and organizations through their interactive online repository of protocols and mobile app.Join us at SynBioBeta London 2017, at Imperial College London, on April 4-6.

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