Harvard biologist George Church apologized for his affiliation with disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein on the 5th August, five days before Epstein’s death. Church founded leading blockchain startup Nebula Genomics for complete DNA sequencing.
Nebula raised $4.3 million in a funding round last year, with a key focus on providing free genome sequencing. Personal data is secured with blockchain technology, so individuals have control and trust over their information.
Church is arguably the biggest name on the Nebula team, a professor at Harvard and MIT who is considered a pioneer in DNA research. He admitted to having meetings with Epstein, who was known for funding many scientific projects.
In 2008 Epstein was convicted for soliciting a minor for prostitution. And at the time of his death, he was accused of sex trafficking. Church met with him “several times” after 2008, including six phone calls and meetings in 2014.
“I certainly apologize for my poor awareness and judgment,” stated Church. “There should have been more conversations about, should we be doing this, should we be helping this guy? There was just a lot of nerd tunnel vision,” he continued.
At the time George Church was the first scientist to publicly apologize for affiliating with Epstein, where his “main concern is for the people who have been hurt.”
The Nebula founder met the billionaire with Martin Nowak, who started the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, partly funded by Epstein. Nowak and Church worked together on advanced gene drives, perhaps a precursor of the technology behind Nebula. However, Church claims he knew nothing of the extent of Epstein’s alleged crimes and infamous interest in eugenics.
“The meetings weren’t really about Jeffrey,” he said, “they were about the scientists who were talking with each other. Normally, expectations are low for people who listen in on meetings far outside their field of expertise.”
Epstein also donated money to one of Church’s labs, which the scientist regrets. The job of screening potential donors usually falls to university administrators.
Since Church’s comments and Epstein’s death, the head of MIT’s Media Lab Joi Ito published a personal apology for accepting donations from the financier. Shortly after, Ito’s MIT colleague Ethan Zuckerman resigned over the Media Lab’s close relationship with Epstein.