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The next ten years: A mecca for innovation

Published: Friday, July 3 2015 4:46 p.m. MDT

If you can diagnose autism before a child is 3, you can change the future for that child.

If you can make biofuel from algae, you can change the way we consume energy.

And if you can diagnose disease with a saliva sample, you can extend life.

These promising projects are all part of Utah's present push to improve the future. And experts and amateurs alike tout Utah as an innovation and technology hub.

It's part of an "entrepreneurial heritage," said Greg Warnock of Mercato Partners, a longtime technologist who invests in innovation. From pioneer days, Utahns have been can-do folk. "That's our tool box and we just need something to hammer on." The Utah Technology Council boasts what Warnock calls a "stunning" 5,000 technology companies.

Ask Michael O'Malley of the Utah Science, Technology and Research (USTAR) Initiative what's new and cool and he'll tell you it's hard to list it all, from nanomedicine at the University of Utah to synthetic biomanufacturing at Utah State University. Energy and health care are among top needs for the next century. Utah's tackling those issues and others.

Nano-scale technology will make diagnosing diseases quicker and more accurate, O'Malley said. Utah researchers are looking at personalized health care, genetic testing and targeted drug delivery, among others. For energy, think carbon sequestration, cleaner energy production, even carbon recycling. USU has teamed with Logan to extract phosphates from sewage lagoons. Other USU researchers are using algae to help clean the air. Still others are changing single-cell organisms to excrete substances that can be turned to bioplastics, which, unlike traditional plastics, won't hang around landfills for ages.

Dr. Dinesh Patel, managing director of vSpring Capital, a local venture capital firm, doesn't believe personalized medicine will one day mean a drug created just for you. But it will likely eliminate the drugs that won't work for you. And skilled Utahns are working on it. He's also watching with great interest the robotics-type inventions that are improving and in some cases replacing lost mobility for patients.

— Lois Collins

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company