Kill Switches & Creating a Moonshot Company - April 2021 Newsletter

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Kill Switches & Creating a Moonshot Company - April 2021 Newsletter
By Maggie Chua • Issue #2 • View online
Hiya! To those of you that are new, welcome! My name is Maggie and I am a 16-year-old working on creating ripples that will one day impact billions. Currently, I am interested in biocomputing, philosophy, and climate change. In my free time, I love to read, eat, and write. 

I used to believe that someone who is creative and innovative was someone who could generate a bunch of unique, yet fascinating ideas. Ideas that you normally wouldn’t think of when you were given a specific problem or asked to create a fantasy world in your head.
However, after spending the month learning about moonshot mindsets and practicing them as my team worked on building our moonshot company, I learned the true indicator of innovation was killing ideas.
Not because they were bad or unoriginal (but those are still valid reasons to kill ideas), but because they didn’t fit within our requirements for a solution. Maybe it didn’t have enough evidence that supported its feasibility, it wasn’t solving one of the root issues of the problem, or it was just something that didn’t excite us.
The rate-limiting step of innovation is not coming up with the ideas, it’s killing the ideas. Now, you don’t want to kill the very best ideas, but you need not only kill the mediocre ideas, you even need to kill most of the good ideas, because if you don’t, you become constipated with good ideas and the great ones can’t come.  ~Astro Teller
This mindset shift is giving me a new lens to look at the ideation process and to even internalize the idea that innovation isn’t some innate characteristic, but a process that anyone can learn.
Creations
Maximizing Sleep Quality, Minimizing Sleep Time
With my amazing team (Phanisree, Athena, & Hiral), we came up with a sleep solution that consisted of genetically modifying neuron receptors in the brain and having them activated using an ionized water. That meant that each night before going to bed, you could just drink the ionized water medication and enhance your sleep quality and sleep time.
Sounds like a miracle cure?
Somna: Maximizing Sleep Quality, Minimizing Sleep Time
Somna: Maximizing Sleep Quality, Minimizing Sleep Time
Nope, it’s just a technological solution that utilizes the power of chemogenetics. Chemogenetics is a technology that is used to genetically modify biological components (i.e. receptors, proteins, etc.) to respond to certain biomolecules. By inserting special receptors into sleep-regulatory neurons, we could activate them using the ionized water (since it contains an activator molecule called CNO) to express these neurons for sleep.
That was a quick crash course into our solution, but if you’re interested in learning more, don’t hesitate to click on our company website and one-pager that gives a brief summary of Somna’s vision and technology. Also, here’s a technical article my team wrote that explains how chemogenetics works in the context of our solution.
Note: After one month, the link to our company website will expire because it’s really expensive to keep it up and running.
Also, special shoutout to Jerzy Szablowski and Robbert Havekes who provided our team with valuable feedback and advice on our moonshot project!
I highly recommend that you check out their research if you’re interested!
Jerzy is a researcher who developed Acoustically Targeted Chemogenetics (ATAC), which is a noninvasive surgery approach that can be used to deliver therapeutics to the brain. It’s not FDA approved yet and they are still in the process of developing this approach for therapeutic purposes. However, once it does, it can seriously revolutionize how we treat neurological diseases!
Robbert is a researcher that focuses on memory consolidation and how sleep deprivation plays a role in this process. If you’re curious check out his TED Talk, where he discusses how sleep deprivation in mice impacted their memory. Additionally, he has a research paper that found that activation of a specific pathway (cAMP) helped prevent memory loss in mice that were sleep-deprived.
Kill Switches
At the beginning of the month, I finally completed my first biocomputing project (if you’ve been reading my newsletters, you would know that I was dragging it out). I think that I never really internalized the idea of done > perfect and it made me stress over every little detail.
Anyways, kill switches are biological safety mechanisms that cause the bacteria to die in specific environmental contexts. For instance, if you didn’t want bacteria to escape outside a lab environment, you could program a kill switch mechanism that would cause the bacteria to die if it was ever exposed to natural sunlight.
I Built a Kill Switch in Synthetic Biology Open Language (SBOL)
Outside of biological containment, kill switches will become incredibly beneficial if we want to employ genetically modified microbes for environmental cleanup, therapeutic applications, and other countless applications.
If a video isn’t your style, you can check out this article I wrote that describes this project and provides more information on the amazing potential of kill switches!
Exploration
A curated list of gems that are definitely worth checking out…
  • The Unexpected Benefit of Celebrating Failure | Astro Teller, TED Talk | This past month, I was working on creating a hypothetical moonshot company and everyone in our science program was recommended to watch it. I think that it changed my perspective on how I was living life and approaching problems because we try to optimize rather than revolutionize.
  • How I Studied for 12 Hours a Day For Over a Year, James Scholz | The reason why I’m linking this is not because I’m trying to motivate all of us productivity nerds, but I do think that he brings up a lot of good points. For instance, he talks about the difference between drive and motivation as well as focusing not on the quantity of time you spend doing something, but your depth of learning.
  • How I Learned AP Calculus BC in 5 DAYS and got a 5, Sigil Wen | So…if you’re anything like me and you procrastinated studying for your AP exams, this would be right up your alley. I found this video super helpful as it gave me concrete steps I could take to start studying for my upcoming physics exam.
  • NFTs, Explained, Johnny Harris | Yep, I know I’m late to the game, but hey, better late than never. I remember hearing the word NFT in the past, but never truly learning about what it actually was except people selling memes over blockchain. But this was definitely eye-opening and interesting to learn about.
  • A Light Academia Playlist, crachead | You have no idea how many times I’ve listened to this playlist over the last couple of months. Super into classical music for studying, journaling, and chilling. 10/10 recommend ✨
What's Next -->
Things I’m Planning to Work on in May…
  • Finishing my review article on 🤫 (you’ll find it in next month’s update 😉 )
  • Coming up with an original idea/application of biocomputing
  • Writing an article series on sleep, memory consolidation, and chemogenetics (might take awhile, but I think it would be fun)
  • Preparing for an interview for a research summer program
  • Submitting to the Gen Science Competition
Closing Thoughts...
If you got to the end, thanks for catching up with me this month! I sincerely appreciate every single one of you taking time out of your day to listen to my thoughts. Thank you to all the wonderful mentors, friends, and readers for making my month memorable!
As always,
Stay Safe, Keep Learning, Create Happiness 💗
Did you enjoy this issue?
Maggie Chua

Hey! My name is Maggie and I am a biotech enthusiast and writer from the US. Every month, I send out a newsletter talking about my recent projects, reflections, and interesting content I've found online.

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