The device, called a “digital-to-biological converter” was unveiled in May. Though still a prototype, instruments like it could one day broadcast biological information from sites of a disease outbreak to vaccine manufacturers, or print out on-demand personalized medicines at patients’ bedsides.

“We have been dreaming, for about a decade, of the ability to fax life forms,” says Juan Enriquez, an executive with Excel Ventures, a venture capital firm that has invested in SGI, who imagines a new Industrial Revolution with the “digital-biological converter” as the cotton gin.