Lead Engineer Hal Holmes Named 2018 Moore Inventor Fellow

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Dr. Hal Holmes, Lead Engineer at Conservation X Labs, was selected as one of five Moore Inventor Fellows (2018) by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to support his work on the DNA Barcode Scanner. He is the first Moore Inventor Fellow from a non-profit organization.

Dr. Holmes’ work focuses on a handheld, battery-powered, screening tool that enables someone without technical training to perform an automated DNA test to identify wildlife products right in the field. This invention will exploit genetic testing and technology for conservation and has the potential to monitor and prevent illegal trafficking of timber and wildlife products.

“Conservation X Labs believes that exponential technological innovations are required to solve the massive conservation challenges the planet faces,” said Dr. Alex Dehgan, CEO of Conservation X Labs. “We are proud to be the field leaders in conservation technology and are deeply honored that Dr. Hal Holmes, our Lead Engineer, was recognized by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for his groundbreaking work in the field of genetic testing for conservation.”

Dr. Holmes was also awarded an inaugural Schmidt Science Fellowship (2018) to drive the development of a new DNA extraction platform to address difficult sample types at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. To learn more about his contributions through the Schmidt Science Fellows program, see their press release and website. Learn more about Dr. Holmes and his work in his own words below.

Moore Inventor Fellows supports early-career scientist-inventors working on innovative projects with the potential to bring about significant change. Since its inception in 2016, Moore Inventor Fellows has supported early-career scientist-inventors at a critical stage of research, by giving them the resources and freedom to test their ideas. This year, to diversify the applicant portfolio, nominees were sought from select research institutions in addition to universities.

Each fellow receives a total of $825,000 over three years to drive their invention forward, including $50,000 per year from their home institution. Starting with five fellows in 2016 and five more in 2017, the foundation plans to allocate nearly $34 million through 2026 to support 50 Moore Inventor Fellows.

For more information about the Moore Inventor Fellows program, see their website and press release here.

All inquiries can be directed to info@conservationxlabs.org.

Announcing 20 Finalists for First Round of Con X Tech Prize


Conservation X Labs, a Washington, DC based social enterprise, announced 20 finalists for the first round of the Con X Tech Prize, a global competition that provides funding for project teams with a bold conservation idea that are preparing their first prototype.

“We're proud to announce the finalists for the Con X Tech Prize, our micro-grants program to bring revolutionary ideas from blueprint to prototype,” said Dr. Alex Dehgan, CEO of Conservation X Labs. “From cargo shipments to machine learning to micro-finance, we've selected twenty innovations that have the potential for exponential impact and help end human-induced extinction.”

Each team will receive $3,500 to develop their idea into a first prototype for the next round of the competition. Then, one grand prize winner will be awarded $20,000 to support the future of their project. To learn more about the 20 finalists, check out the Finalists Announcement Page. 84 teams submitted applications to this round of the Con X Tech Prize on the Digital Makerspace (DMS), Conservation X Labs’ signature collaboration platform.

The announcement was covered in Mongabay, which interviewed Cassie Hoffman, Field Director at Conservation X Labs, and profiled some of the finalists.

The goal of the Con X Tech Prize is to build the ecosystem of early-stage conservation technology products and solutions and support growing teams and ideas from around the world. Selected teams receive seed grants to support their work over a ten-week period. At the close of the prototyping period, one team is awarded the Grand Prize. The Con X Tech Prize supports ideas that have the potential to be conservation game-changers.

Interested in joining a future round of the Prize? Be the first to know about the next round of funding on the Digital Makerspace or sign up to receive an email notification on the Con X Tech Prize page.

The ‘Ohiʻa Challenge: Calling New Solvers to Save Hawaiʻi’s Forests

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$70,000 Challenge Launches Today – Application Period Open Until February 1, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC, USA, September 5, 2018 /EINPresswire.com/ -- Hawai'i's iconic ʻŌhiʻa tree faces a new and undetectable threat that is killing off trees at an unprecedented rate. This disease threatens to decimate this species that is critical to the unique culture and habitat of Hawai'i. Conservation X Labs, a DC-based technology start-up, announces the launch of The ʻŌhiʻa Challenge—a competition for solutions to this threat. In partnership with the U.S. Department of the Interior offices and agencies, Conservation X Labs today announced the opportunity to compete and seeks new solvers from unconventional fields such as engineering, fluidics, optics, microbiology, hackers, makers, and many more to save Hawai'i's forests from extinction.

The ʻŌhiʻa Challenge offers $70,000 for solutions that can rapidly detect and prevent the spread of Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death (ROD). ROD is caused by fungal pathogens that have recently decimated the endemic ʻohiʻa tree population on the islands of Kaua'i and Hawai'i. Applications for solutions will be accepted from September 5th, 2018 through February 1st, 2019 on https://www.challenge.gov/list/.

Conservation X Labs has partnered with Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Native Hawaiian Relations, Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, and National Invasive Species Council (NISC) Secretariat to launch The ʻŌhiʻa Challenge as part of a collective effort to address ROD by harnessing emerging science, technological innovations, and the ingenuity of people around the world.

The ʻōhiʻa tree carries immense cultural heritage and natural value in the Hawaiian islands. A Hawaiian legend tells of the love and separation of the young couple ʻŌhiʻa and Lehua: jealous of their love, the goddess Pele turned the warrior ʻŌhiʻa into a tree and Lehua into the tree’s flower. If you pluck the red lehua blossoms of the ʻōhiʻa tree (Metrosideros polymorpha), legend says the lovers’ tears fill the sky with rain as they are separated again.

Promising solutions will receive further support on Conservation X Labs’ Digital Makerspace, a platform where science, entrepreneurship, and technology communities come together to co-create tech-enabled solutions to conservation problems. Anyone can submit a solution to identify infected trees early before they die, minimize the spread of ROD, and eliminate the pathogens and leverage the community of solvers to develop ideas.

The ʻŌhiʻa Challenge team is calling on the technology, engineering, and scientific community to help solve the problem. “Our goal is to use the best of human ingenuity to identify technological solutions that can save part of Hawai'i's beauty. This is why we look to engage innovative thinkers within other advanced technology fields through this challenge prize”, said Dr. Alex Dehgan, CEO of Conservation X Labs, “We don’t have to accept ʻōhiʻa's extinction.”

Microscopic invasive fungi, Ceratocystis huliohia and Ceratocystis lukuohia, are responsible for ROD. Since 2014 when first identified, the fungi have infected thousands of acres of forest and have recently invaded the islands of Kaua'i and Hawai'i. If unstopped, ROD could irreversibly change Hawai'i's ecosystems and culture by eliminating the beloved ‘ohi’a.

To join the coalition to save the ʻohiʻa and protect Hawai'i's natural heritage, visit www.SavetheOhia.org for complete information about the Challenge rules and instructions on how to submit an application. All press and general inquiries can be directed to ohia@conservationxlabs.org or Senior Program Manager, Chad Gallinat (chad@conservationxlabs.org).

Chad Gallinat
Senior Program Manager, Conservation X Labs

Press Releases for The ‘Ohi’a Challenge can be accessed at the following:

EIN Presswire (Sept. 5, 2018): https://www.einpresswire.com/article/460972243/the-hi-a-challenge-calling-new-solvers-to-save-hawai-i-s-forests

EurekAlert (Sept. 5, 2018): https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-09/cxl-ppt090418.php

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park (Aug. 14, 2018): https://www.nps.gov/havo/learn/news/20180814_pr_rod_challenge.htm

The DNA Barcode Scanner Featured in The Atlantic & bioGraphic

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Conservation X Labs and the DNA Barcode Scanner were featured in stories for bioGraphic and The Atlantic on the growing movement of technology for conservation. The profiles focused on our DNA Barcode Scanner and its potential to revolutionize the fight against wildlife trafficking and seafood fraud among other fields. Check out each story to learn more about what we do and how we seek to transform the field of conservation!


A Handheld DNA Scanner Could Crack Down on Wildlife Identity Theft

Virginia Gewin, The Atlantic

“The Conservation X Labs device is a first step toward that lofty goal. Using the Barcode of Life Database, the team identifies sequences specific to individual species, then synthesizes these short stretches of DNA and freeze-dries them onto reference chips. It’s not quite Janzen’s dream of a tool capable of identifying any of millions of species. But unlike existing genetic sequencers, which are typically complicated and expensive, this scanner is fast, cheap, and easy to use. It is a handheld, field-ready scanner, the first to swiftly verify, either yes or no, whether something is, indeed, the species someone claims it to be. That alone has utility in law enforcement. If you only need a Ford Fusion, there’s no need to build a Ferrari, says David Baisch, the molecular biologist leading the development of the DNA barcode scanner.”

Tech Support for an Ailing Planet

Virginia Gewin, bioGraphic

“Conservation X Labs also wants to diversify the field of conservation itself. Right now, says Alex Dehgan, co-founder and CEO of Conservation X Labs, “The problem is that conservation is only filled with conservationists.” Dehgan, his co-founder Paul Bunje, and their small team are working to change this, deliberately building a working environment to nurture novel, bold conservation strategies with a specific focus on technology “hacks”—taking existing tools and devices and modifying them to fit new needs. “We’ll need a tribe of hackers, makers, economists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to help a sometimes-technophobic conservation community reverse the sixth mass extinction,” Dehgan says. In other words, they’re forcing a culture clash. The company, with support from the World Wildlife Fund, will soon launch an online digital makerspace, where these disparate groups can find each other and work together to create real-world devices, software, and other tech solutions that can chip away at some of the world’s most pressing environmental problems.

The whole field of conservation is in dire need of an upgrade, Dehgan says. When the conservation movement began, proponents directed their energy toward creating parks and preserves. As the field evolved beyond protecting land, conservationists shifted into phase 2, assigning a dollar value to the often-overlooked ecosystem services, such as water purification or pollination of food crops, that nature provides for free. Now, Dehgan and Bunje say, it’s time for Conservation 3.0: innovative technologies and diverse solutions that tackle unaddressed causes of biodiversity loss, not just its symptoms. The device that Conservation X Labs is building with a total of more than $300,000 in funding (including additional money from Schmidt Marine Technology Partners)—a field-ready DNA scanner capable of quickly identifying species—is a prototype for this movement. It’s a device that delivers technology to improve conservation enforcement. But tech fixes like these face an uphill battle, both in development and adoption, and those in the conservation field are watching closely to see if they can succeed.”

2017 in Review: Conservation X Labs in the News


Bold Conservation Ideas go from Concept to Reality on this new collaboration platform

Eillie Anilott, Fast Company 

Conservation X Labs (CXL), which Dehgan launched in 2015 with Paul Bunje, chief scientist at the XPrize Foundation, aims to apply the tech startup model to the practice of conservation. In its nearly two years of existence, the organization has hosted numerous hackathons and challenges for innovative, tech-driven solutions to species extinction and environmental degradation.  

Earth Optimism Summit will provide contrast to marchers’ angst

Elizabeth Pennisi, Science

The first Earth Optimism Summit kicks off today at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, just blocks from where the marchers will be gathering. It will feature some 240 talks on what is working in conservation, energy efficiency, innovation, and other fields. Conservation X Labs, a DC-based social enterprise, will host Make for the Planet, an intensive rapid prototyping competition during the Earth Optimism Summit.

Why we should use the tech startup model to solve environmental problems

Starre Vartan, Mother Earth Network

Enter Conservation X Labs (CXL), which conservationist Alex Dehgan launched in 2015. CXL aims to use the tech startup model to work on challenges in the difficult and complex space of environmental protection. How does it work? Much like any tech accelerator does: by bringing people together who have various skills and talents, providing a challenge, and letting them suggest — and test out — new ideas. The 2016 Blue Economy Challenge, which looked at how to create more sustainable fisheries, is a good example.

Interview with Alex Dehgan, CEO of Conservation X Labs

Inspiring Social Entrepreneurs (Podcast), Ep. 71: Feb 17, 2017

Listen to an interview with CEO of Conservation X Labs, Alex Dehgan, as he reflects on the company, its mission, and his experiences working in conservation and development around the world.

Alex also appeared on The Business of Giving in a live interview on December 11, 2017 with Denver Frederick on New York AM 970 to discuss Conservation X Labs and his work.

2016 in Review: Conservation X Labs in the News

Learn more about what CXL did in 2016:

Invasive innovations: Summit fosters technological solutions to invasive species challenge

Julia John, Mongabay

“We can do this,” declared the big round pins on the chests of attendees at the first annual Innovation Summit on Overcoming the Invasive Species Challenge. Cohosted by the National Invasive Species Council (NISC), the conference brought together leading scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs to examine new solutions to the severe consequences of invasive species on Monday, December 5th, at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC.

Experts hack away at portable DNA barcode scanner to fight timber and wildlife trafficking

Julia John, Mongabay

The recent DNA Barcode Scanner Hack brought together a range of experts to brainstorm a handheld modular DNA analysis device that could identify timber samples in the field, help flag wildlife trafficking, detect novel pathogens and enhance fisheries traceability, bypassing the need for an expensive, distant laboratory.

Solving global grand challenges, one MOOC at a time

Taylor Robb-McCord, Mongabay

The newly launched Innovation and Design for Global Grand Challenges MOOC explores current global challenges in conservation and development taught by Alex Dehgan, CEO of Conservation X Labs. The course is free and covers topics from wildlife trafficking to global health, 3D printing and synthetic biology. Launched in July 2016, the course has registered 1,500 students from 75 countries.

New ‘Blue Economy Challenge’ wants your solutions to transform the aquaculture industry

Shreya Dasgupta, Mongabay

On February 29, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), in partnership with Conservation X Labs, SecondMuse, NineSigma, and the World Wildlife Fund, launched the Blue Economy Challenge­ — an innovation challenge that aims to transform the aquaculture industry, particularly in the Indian Ocean region.

Harnessing Innovation for Conservation:  Interview with Alex Dehgan

Jennie Specter, Solutions Journal

An interview with Alex Dehgan, CEO of Conservation X Labs, on why innovation is needed in conservation and how to harness the power of entrepreneurship to save the planet’s biodiversity.