A Post on Connected and Open Synthetic Biology
Founded in 2017, SynBio UK is a student-led association of synthetic biology societies from universities across the UK which aims to connect the UK’s synthetic biology students. On behalf of the recently elected 2018-19 SynBio UK committee we are writing to let you know that we are excited to begin delivering projects to connect and support you throughout the following year. You can look forward to some of our projects going live in the near future, including the 2018 UK iGEM meetup, a youtube channel broadcasting UK-based synthetic biology experts and a calendar of national synthetic biology related events. As a young organisation, we are still finding our feet so please do get in touch if you have ideas for us.
Our biggest event of the year is just around the corner: as mentioned, SynBio UK is organising a UK wide iGEM meetup in order to connect, inspire and educate this year’s batch of iGEM UK teams – by following the link you can express your interest in attending! The two-day event will be hosted by Synbio.Oxford in mid-July at the University of Oxford: shout out to them for helping us to make this happen! We aim to bring together not only teams from across the UK but also iGEM alumni, industrial and academic leaders in the field and many others working in synbio in the UK. This will be a great opportunity to network between iGEMers, listen to world-leading synbio pioneers and attend exciting workshops. We will soon be making announcements via twitter regarding our key speakers so be sure to watch this space.
Throughout the remainder of this post we would like to highlight a few open innovation efforts in the synthetic biology community – this is not an exhaustive list so please do comment sharing details of related projects! To begin with, we will briefly summarise synthetic biology: a field that both deconstructs biological systems to understand their assembly logic and reconstructs them to create novel systems with useful applications. Application of synthetic biology holds the potential to provide solutions for many of the challenges that humanity currently faces, such as overpopulation, pollution and lack of natural resources.
There are many movements within the synthetic biology community that have a spirit of sharing of innovation. As illustrated by this diagram, (synthetic biology in green) there are for example efforts to share open source components (e.g. BioBricks Foundation, Addgene etc…). Sharing information in this manner boosts accessibility and can catalyse the advancement of problem-solving applications: components enable the development of patentable technologies (for an example in a different field, see the open source malaria project). However, in order to have a responsible impact on society (green arrows), innovators must engage with the public and take into account feedback (blue arrows; see for example aurator.org). In this way world-changing applications can be accepted by the community at all levels. This necessitates social outreach and responsible education: it is important that those involved in synthetic biology not only focus on elucidating the complexity of life and repurposing it but that they also communicate their findings in an accessible manner.
The spirit of open innovation in synthetic biology is best exemplified by the iGEM competition which is highly attended and respected globally. Every October it brings together more than 5000 passionate students from all levels, with the aim of educating, advancing synthetic biology and developing an open and collaborative community. Participants from over 30 different countries work during the summer to develop “Genetically Engineered Machines” and upload their protocols and parts into a “wiki” database, available to all other teams (and the rest of the world). Teams are judged not only on the science behind their projects but also other categories, some of which are related to the openness of synbio, for example the “Best Education and Public Engagement” prize.
SynBio UK is proud to be organising the UK iGEM meetup and aims to embody iGEM’s values throughout the event.
Written by Alberto Scarampi del Cairo
Treasurer, SynBio UK and Imperial College Synthetic Biology Society (SynBIC)
Edited by Matt Tarnowski
1st year PhD student at the University of Oxford and Bristol
President, SynBio UK