Private yachts are exactly that, private, and for good reasons. Owners acquire them to get away from life for a while, and to enjoy time exclusively with family and friends. That explains why most superyacht owners prefer to remain anonymous. Not, however, Gene Machine yacht owner Jonathan Rothberg. He’s active on social media, as is his crew. Collectively, they share photos and information about where this Amels 180 is venturing and what happens onboard.
Initially, the yacht was Engelberg (below), launching in 2013 for a European family. However, that family didn’t end up taking delivery. Coincidentally, Rothberg and his family, which includes four children, had already been considering the Amels 180 series for themselves. Since the layout of Engelberg was family-friendly, the project was an ideal fit. She had accommodations for 10, for instance, with saloons suitable for parents, teens, and younger children to spend time together. She had features that all generations would appreciate, too, like sliding-glass doors to each side of the saloon. The interior design by Enzo Enea of Focus Yacht Design additionally appealed to them, with sandy and earth tones, plus touches of blues.
While family time was a priority, so was global travel. This, in turn, meant that the Rothberg family planned to spend months at a time onboard. Indeed, half a year was not out of the realm of possibility. The first summer season for the newly hired Gene Machine yacht crew and the family was a pretty typical one, in the Med. With their captain, the family planned out ambitious adventures, including Gene Machine exploring Svalbard in the Arctic Circle in 2017.
All together, the travels that Gene Machine, the family, and the crew have taken include areas like London, Miami, Monaco, New York, Norway, Spain, and St. Barths. And none of them show signs of slowing down.
Arguably most fascinating of all, the Gene Machine yacht has a lab. Not just a small area of counterspace with a microscope or two, though. The superyacht has a true scientific lab, which Rothberg had created in the skylounge. He is a pioneer in genetic sequencing technology. In fact, he received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2016 from President Barack Obama for making genome sequencing faster and less expensive. Furthermore, as he tweeted in March, “I’ve done my best creating when faced by a challenge. Next gen sequencing when my son went to newborn intensive care.” He adds that issues his daughter faced with her kidneys led him to develop an ultrasound on a microchip, for monitoring.
That same daughter, now grown, uses the lab for her own scientific research. For instance, in 2017 while the yacht was in Svalbard, inspiration struck. She was treading water off a glacier and wondered what might be alive in those same waters. So, the then-16-year-old took some samples. She extracted DNA from the samples and prepared them for sequencing, alongside samples from more than two dozen other waters where Gene Machine had cruised so far.
Rothberg himself uses the lab, too, of course, developing among other things the world’s first Covid-19 home tests in it. He got the ball rolling mere weeks into the global pandemic, tweeting on March 7, “Thinking about a low cost, easy to manufacture home test kit for #Coronavirus.” He included a photo of his desk and the lab equipment aboard Gene Machine. Within just two weeks, that kit went from concept to execution, with a team of molecular biologists. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it in December 2021.
More About the Gene Machine Yacht
LOA: 179’10” 54.86 meters)
Beam: 29’5″ (9 meters)
Draft: 10’10” (3.35 meters)
Guests: 10 in 5 staterooms
Engines: 2/2,000-hp MTUs
Range: 4,500 nautical miles at 13 knots
Builder: Amels (Damen Yachting)
Stylist: Tim Heywood Design
Naval Architect: Amels (Damen Yachting)
Interior Designer: Focus Yacht Design