Owner of 55m motoryacht Gene Machine, American scientist and entrepreneur Dr. Jonathan Rothberg is best known for his work in high-speed, low-cost DNA sequence machines. Having decided to spend lockdown on board his yacht, Dr. Rothberg has used the time to develop a rapid COVID-19 home-testing kit.

Founder of life science and medical device companies such as Butterfly Network, Homodeus Inc and Hyperfine, the driving force for Dr. Rothberg is to democratise medicine. That’s why, when the pandemic started, he recognised the importance of developing a simple and accurate test that immediately determines if someone has the virus. His focus has been on producing a nucleic acid test, which uses genetic rather than antigen detection.

Dr. Rothberg has been researching and developing the technology in the yacht’s upper-deck salon, which looks more like a science lab. “The goal is to be able to hand a swab to someone and after 15 minutes have the results,” Captain Matthew Gow tells The CEO Magazine. On a personal level, it will enable any of the yacht’s visitors and crew to be tested before being allowed to board the vessel. 

Dr. Rothberg posted an image of his research space on board Gene Machine on his Twitter account

Such activity is not unusual to the crew of Gene Machine, whose owner is often found undertaking various scientific projects. “I know other boats are doing some kind of philanthropy, but I don't know of any that are actually prototyping and testing a 3D-printed COVID-19 test kit, which is fascinating,” adds Captain Gow. “Although we can’t take credit for any of the scientific work, we can take credit for the fact that we are supporting his ability to work on board. Without the crew, he wouldn’t be here. We’re very lucky to have a cool owner who is making a difference.” 

Dr. Rothberg has been working most days with his team at Homodeus to develop the testing kit. At first, he was alone on board, but a biologist intern joined the yacht in late May to help with the project. This also coincided with the delivery of equipment such as a 3D printer, robotic pipetting machine, laser cutter/engraver and other materials, which has allowed them to prototype the test kit without having to visit Dr. Rothberg’s labs.

In collaboration with the team at Homodeus, Dr. Rothberg has now developed working production units for a home test, which uses a nasal swab and transmits the results via a mobile app. For the crew of Gene Machine, it’s been exciting to watch such swift progress on this game-changing technology. At the time of writing, the tests are still in the research phase, yet to receive FDA approval. 

To keep updated with the progress of Dr. Rothberg and M/Y Gene Machine, follow the yacht’s Instagram account @mygenemachine.


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