A little over 14 years ago, I was daydreaming in the lab. I should have been processing cancer-prone mice and recording the location of their tumors, but was having a hard time focusing on anything but a random question that had jumped into my head while I rode the subway to work earlier that day. The question was simple: What happens when every building in the world has sensors for DNA and RNA built into its forced air system, or maybe tucked into the corner of each room as a small device? To me, the answer was clear, and exciting: If you focused just on genomic signatures from small organisms, you would be able to monitor, understand and forecast the movement of microbes and viruses between people, among groups, and through large human populations in motion — across urban space, and over time.

You could literally make the invisible, visible.

If done right, this information would have widespread uses in society and business — including, most importantly, as an early warning system to help avoid outbreaks of many kinds. I understood that these ranged from annoying to burdensome and very costly for society. Of course, they had the potential to be life threatening, and could critically impact how people work, live, learn and play. As a cancer genomics researcher by training, I’ve spent much of my life thinking about the genetic signatures of hidden populations of cells. And as a technology entrepreneur over the last decade, biomedical information problems have held the same fascination for me—problems about how to make specialized information useful, and how to make predictions using it with machine learning. Founding Poppy last year with Elizabeth Caley and Daniela Bezdan now brings together both of those worlds.

We believe there is a new type of information that should be easily available to all of us everyday — the pathogens in our homes, workplaces, schools — and what we should do about them.

All of us have been impacted by harmful organisms many times through the course of our lives. Our families and friends have been affected by flu, food-borne illnesses, allergies, and avoidable infections — the experience is universal, and varies by timing and severity. And now, of course, almost every life on earth is impacted by COVID-19. Each day, we hear from more people and learn more about how Poppy can help them — their employees, their customers, their businesses. We’ll report these and other insights here in our blog. — Sam Molyneux is Co-Founder and Co-Chief Executive Officer at Poppy. Stay tuned for more of Poppy’s perspective

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