DNA Barcode Scanner

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.

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.”