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In our DNA: Kirsty Maclean, Director of Applications & Customer Engagement

September 2, 2020 | Codex DNA

Today we’re excited to launch a blog series focused on our most valuable resource: our people. We wouldn’t be where we are today — enabling the tremendous science done by our customers — without the Codex DNA family. We’ll be profiling team members in Q&A blogs to give you a better sense of who we are. Think of it as a peek at the DNA of Codex DNA.

Kirsty MacleanTeam member: Kirsty Maclean, Director of Applications & Customer Engagement

Came aboard: October 2019

What do you do at Codex DNA?
A little bit of everything from the commercial operations perspective! In pre-sales efforts, I help to get customers excited about potential synthetic biology applications relevant to their area of science, and I share information about how our technology can help with that. I also do troubleshooting for customers, as well as keeping a close eye on areas our customers are working where we don’t have a solution right now, so I can suggest novel applications we should be developing on our platform. Part of my job is staying ahead of the scientific curve, making sure we’re ready for the next big thing.

How did you get into that kind of work?
For my graduate PhD degree, I was collaborating with a drug company designing and developing novel drugs for iron overload disorders. Back then, that required really long, tedious benchtop molecular processes. This was followed up by a successful postdoctoral tenure that took me from the UK to the US, where I now reside. However, I ended up moving out of research and into the new exciting world of the biotech industry 15 years ago as a field application scientist at Dharmacon, which at the time focused on novel RNA interference technology and also served as my first foray into synthetic biology.

What brought you to Codex DNA?
I had read lots of papers about the Gibson Assembly® method, but naïvely, never knew there was an actual person, Dan Gibson, behind it all. During my postdoctoral tenure, it was all restriction digest cloning, which often took months of futile efforts. I think back to how much my research could have benefited from using Gibson Assembly. When they approached me for a position, I was of course really excited to get to work with the team responsible for the very well-cited cloning method that I’d been reading about for ten years.

What’s the company vibe?
If you’re going to be happy in any company, you’ve got to see your colleagues as friends too. We have a collegial environment and we’re all helping each other through this pandemic and together facing the challenges of working exclusively from home.

How do you describe synthetic biology to non-scientists?
I often talk about what some of these global efforts in sustainability really mean — especially in agriculture, the food and beverage industry (I say this while drinking my flavored water), and biofuels. But now with emerging pandemics, I feel people are starting to pay attention to therapeutic efforts — especially in vaccine development — that can be rapidly advanced using synthetic biology.

What one thing do you wish more people understood about DNA?
DNA is DNA is DNA whether it’s printed, it’s extracted, sequenced or otherwise. Reading code is one thing, but we must educate people that it can be written too. We shouldn’t see variants in DNA as something detrimental, and I’m often having to defend what the term GMO actually refers to.

What’s something fun about working at Codex DNA?
To get through the lockdown situation, we organized a Friday evening happy hour. We get in front of the camera, have a glass (or two) of wine, share some issues, and decompress.

What was the first thing you ever wanted to be when you grew up?
In 1977 for Christmas I got one of those awful chemistry sets, the toxic kind that of course is banned today. I burned a huge hole in my parents’ living room carpet; looking back on it now, it was a dramatic improvement to the carpet. In school I was really good at biology, chemistry, and history… I’ve just always loved science and researching things.

How do you see synthetic biology changing the world?
There are such far-reaching areas that synthetic biology touches. I’m really excited about its impact on sustainability and improving therapeutics.

Questions? Suggestions? Need additional info?

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