Hardware, Software & the Internet of Things
June 23–25, 2015 • San Francisco, CA

Engineering biology with Antha

Sean Ward (Synthace Ltd)
5:25pm–6:05pm Wednesday, 06/24/2015
Location: Generals Residence
Average rating: ****.
(4.00, 4 ratings)

Prerequisite Knowledge

This talk will begin with an introduction to synthetic biology, and the context of current working practices in synthetic biology. A general basic understanding of biology is however helpful.


Antha is a first-generation, high-level programming language for biology, built as an extension to the Google Go language; it’s designed to make simple, reproducible, and scalable workflows by stacking smart and reusable Elements. An Element can be anything from genetic elements (such as a promoter, gene, transcription factor, or the particular strain of yeast or bacteria used as a host), to experimental procedures such as DNA assembly, incubation, protein expression, or enzyme assays. Antha workflows allow automated execution by directly interfacing with many common types of lab equipment, integrating the disparate data formats and proprietary drivers that prevent the dissemination of working practices.

Antha also automatically tracks and logs all associated data when an Element is executed. Essentially, this enables not just the standardization of the genetic parts, but standardization and full tracking of the experimental procedure used to characterize a part. This inherently allows for greater reproducibility, simplicity, and scalability when Elements are wired together to form workflows. Once Elements and workflows are designed and tested, they can be shared or even embedded as the downloadable and executable materials-and-methods section of a research article.

Photo of Sean Ward

Sean Ward

Synthace Ltd

Sean is a serial entrepreneur, first in the music industry with Relatable, and currently in synthetic biology with Synthace. At Synthace, one of the UK’s leading synbio companies, Sean is driving the work on Antha, a high level language for the reproducible and transferable execution of biological working practices. Before founding Synthace, Sean was a research associate in bioinformatics at University College London, where he conducted research into protein folding, protein structure prediction, and gene coding. Prior to his work in bioinformatics, Sean was the co-founder and CTO of Relatable, a leading US-based acoustic fingerprinting company, whose customers included major peer-to-peer companies such as Napster as well as consumer electronics manufacturers, royalty collection agencies, and major labels. Sean has a BSc in computer science from UCL. Sean is also an advisor on synthetic biology to the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).