Q&A Series: Revolution Bio, developers of color-changing flowers!

Revolution Bioengineering is an awesome little company that wants to use biotechnology to deliver something unique and awesome to consumers – just like us! They are in the midst of a crowd-funding campaign for biotech-enhanced, color-changing flowers (which you should definitely check out) that intrigued us so much we reached out to co-founder Keira Havens to learn more:

OSF: Hi Keira and thanks so much for indulging our curiosity about your company and awesome project! Perhaps the best place to start is asking what our readers should know about Revolution Bio and its founders?Keira Havens - Rev Bio

Keira: Revolution Bioengineering is just myself and Dr. Nikolai Braun, two plant scientists who wanted to make something beautiful. As scientists it can be difficult to explain what you’re doing and why it’s important, especially in the field of plant biotechnology. We wanted to develop an application that everyone could appreciate, whether they had a science background or not.

When we hit on the color-changing flower idea, we were pretty excited. We both have gardens (just like most of the US!) and we thought it would be fascinating to introduce a new layer of personalization and creativity to plant breeding through biotechnology. Plus, it’s a project that people could get excited about now, rather than having to wait for 10 years.

That sounds great – we’re big fans of bringing exciting biotech applications to consumers as well! Can you let us know a bit more about your flagship project, color-changing flowers?

The color changing flower goes from white to red when you share your beer with it – think of it as a pet plant!

It starts with a white garden petunia. This petunia has been very well studied, so we know why it’s white – there’s a broken gene in the color synthesis pathway. That gene is being re-introduced under the control of a genetic part that responds to ethanol. So, when you share your beer with the flower, you activate the gene and complete the color pathway.  This allows the flower to turn a vibrant red that stays for the life of the flower.  You only have to water it with beer once to have the flowers turn red. Water with regular H20 and all the new blooms will be white.

White to red is only the start – we love to make flowers that go from blue to pink on their own, flowers with unique scents and patterns, maybe even blue roses and deer resistant tulips!

We’ve seen that you are aiming to get these flowers into the hands of consumers in perhaps the most direct manner possible – a crowd-funding campaign (congrats on already raising over $20K by the way!). Why do you think this is the best way to kick things off and what kind of rewards can supporters look forward to?

Color-changing flowersThis is about bringing beautiful biotechnology to everyone, not just venture capitalists or scientists. And people love flowers! The color changing flower makes people say ‘wow!’ and we wanted to give them the opportunity to make it happen.  Backers can get their own flowers, donate the flowers to a school to teach kids about bioengineering, or, they can order a floral etch-a-sketch, where we provide a plot of flowers that acts as a living billboard – they can draw new messages in it each week!

It seems like bringing more beauty to the world via innovation is a key motivation behind Rev Bio and this campaign, would you agree?

Definitely. This has been an adventure in artistic vision for us, and a crash course in design. Artists have been an enthusiastic part of this campaign, embracing the idea of designing beautiful items with this new tool of biotechnology. It’s a whole different world compared to work at the lab bench, but the passion, creativity, and excitement about what we’re making or learning is very similar between the two disciplines.

Why did you decide to focus on something like color-changing flowers for consumers, rather than pursuing more typical biotech applications?

In part, it was because we had a unique set of technical skills, and that this project was achievable relatively quickly – about two years. This might sound unimportant, but many plant biotechnology products can stretch to 10 years or more in development (as you know!).

Typical biotechnology projects will pay dividends in health and medicine many years down the road, or remain the realm of large companies with industrial or agricultural applications 5 steps removed from consumers. This has resulted in a lot of misunderstanding and confusion about what biotechnology can do and what that means for us. We saw a need for biotechnology that had a direct connection to people, in particular, a positive connection. Color-changing flowers are a beautiful way to do that.

We’ve seen that your website is very-much consumer oriented as well, with lots of cool infographics and media. Do you think focusing on making biotech more fun and accessible for the public can help shift what has become a very polarized discussion about this technology?

Yes, we hope so.  The conversation about GMOs often ends up with people who shout slogans at one another – it’s become a discussion about corporations and modern agriculture rather than a discussion about the technology.  Biotechnology is just a tool, and like any other tool, it’s what you build with it that matters.

The color changing flower is an exciting example of what can be dreamed and achieved by applying our knowledge of biology to innovate and discover. We hope that people will join us in work together to say “this is the world we want to create”.

Thanks so much for taking the time to share more about your company and projects with us, we’ll be eagerly following your progress and hope our readers will check out your website and consider buying a color-changing flower of their own!

About Joel Brooks

Growing up in the Okanagan, Joel had the opportunity to experience apple growing first hand, a background that lead him to his role as Product & Special Projects Manager. Joel feels privileged to work with such great people towards a goal that’s so easy to get behind – helping people to eat more apples.

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