Congratulations to Tyk Side Project Fund winner BugSeq! 

The Tyk Side Project Fund is our chance to give something back. Tyk exists to help people make, create and build things better. It was born of our CEO Martin’s frustration at not being able to find the API management platform that he needed – so he decided to build it himself.

Four years later and Tyk is helping to connect businesses of all shapes and sizes with their customers around the globe, so now it’s our turn to help other change makers find the path to success. And the Tyk Side Project Fund is how we’re doing it.

We invited all those out there with innovative ideas to let us know what it would take to help turn their passion project into reality. We were delighted to receive so many outstanding applications for side project funding as a result. Choosing winners was a seriously tough call, but one that had to be made. When you read the interview below with Sam Chorlton, the resident Medical Microbiologist behind BugSeq, we think you’ll agree that Sam is an incredibly worthy winner.

Tyk: Please can you tell us what your project, BugSeq, is all about?

Sam: BugSeq is an online bioinformatics platform enabling microbiology labs to analyze next-generation sequencing data. As a resident doctor specialising in microbiology, I’ve worked in many microbiology labs across Canada. I found that a lot of labs were interested in next-generation sequencing because it can be used to improve patient and population health. For example, next-generation sequencing can be used to diagnose infections, identify antimicrobial resistance, and track the spread of outbreaks through a community.

However, as I went from lab to lab, I discovered that labs could perform the sequencing but not the analysis. Next-generation sequencing provides more data than labs can handle today; currently, a lab needs a bioinformatician to analyze sequencing data, which takes them weeks (too long for patients!) and requires computational infrastructure. I started BugSeq to change that.

Tyk: What led you to start this side project in the first place? What’s your background? 

Sam: As I went through medical school, I found that seeing patients was not the highest-impact use of my time. I was also reading a lot online about effective altruism, and organizations that belong to this movement (shout out to 80,000 Hours!),  thinking about how to leverage my skill-set for the greatest impact on society. 

Based on that experience, discussions with my peers, and clinical rotations, I decided to specialise in medical microbiology. Essentially, we provide medical consulting to diagnostic infectious disease laboratories, including hospital laboratories, out-patient laboratories and public health laboratoriesThrough medical consulting work, it became clear that my background in bioinformatics and sequencing provided a much-needed service in the lab.

I started using sequencing and bioinformatics in my everyday work while also talking to people in the effective altruism community. I realised that global catastrophic biological risks are a threat to our reality, and that there are also non-catastrophic global health elements that are important. I wanted to tackle both elements head on with better diagnostic technologies. BugSeq fills this niche to make powerful microbial diagnostics more ubiquitous.

Tyk: What are the values that drive you personally? 

Sam: I try to use evidence and reasoning to benefit others. BugSeq sits within that overall goal of wanting to impact as many people as possible in the most positive way possible. It’s a goal that includes people who are alive now, future generations, even animals! That’s what drives me to improve BugSeq, which improves science, medicine and population health. 

Tyk: How will the Tyk Side Project Fund help BugSeq to grow? 

Sam: The Tyk Side Project Fund is going to be huge for us. Right now we’re in the early stages, with limited cashflow. Processing genomic data is expensive because it requires large servers in the cloud. We will be using the Tyk Side Project Fund to cover the cost of some of our servers, which will enable more microbiology labs to do sequencing analysis. In particular, we’re really excited about giving away SARS-CoV-2 sequencing analysis to labs to help scale the COVID-19 response and enable open, reproducible science.

Tyk: What are the challenges that you face when working fulltime and having a side project? 

Sam: The most valuable resource for me is time – there’s only so much of it in a day! It gets split between full time work, side project, social activities, wellness, etc. But in a way, the COVID pandemic has been good for me as it has cut down on the social demands, due to the government-mandated social isolation. So this has been a good opportunity for me to dedicate more time to BugSeq.

Tyk: What tips would you give to someone looking to start a side project? 

Sam: I would say, if you’re interested in it, pursue it! People have side projects for all sorts of reasons. Some do it for fun, some want to learn a new technology or skill and others want to bring an idea to the masses. In my case, it was borne of a desire to improve the health of people and populations. It doesn’t matter how big or small your goal is, I encourage you to pursue it and try and do good in the process. 

Tyk: Thank you Sam – and best of luck with BugSeq! 

For more details on BugSeq, click here. You can also find out more about the Tyk Side Project Fund here.