Innovation and leadership go hand-in-hand. Synthetic biology needs massive innovation to rise from the limitations of biotechnology and thus, it is imperative that its leaders have massive ambitions for the field. The Synthetic Biology Leaders Excellence Accelerator Program (Synbio LEAP) is a unique accelerator to hone leaders for the synthetic biology field. Starting in 2012, the fellowship enables about 20 emerging leaders from diverse domains of biotechnology to better impact the society over an year long non-residential program. This year, the fellows will come together during two residential workshops where they develop strategies to execute synthetic biology to address various challenges. The program is sponsored by Synberc, Synbicite, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the NSF.
The fellows for 2015 were announced last week. I’ve tried to classify them into iGEMers, graduate students, academics, and entrepreneurs. Or according to the areas of biotech they influence. However, many of them covered a variety of categories, reflective of how cross-disciplinary the field of synthetic biology is. So, I’d just go with an alphabetical list.
Here are the 23 Synbio LEAP fellows that are expected to play a major role in shaping the future of synthetic biology.
Afke Wieke Betten
Currently a PhD student at the VU University in Amsterdam, Afke has been involved in communication of health and life sciences. She is associated with the iGEM as an advisor and a judge. She was also involved with the Synenergene project that allowed eight iGEM teams to participate in real-time technology assessments.
A postdoc at UC, Berkeley, Amor’s current research interests include the theory and application of control systems principles at the interface of synthetic and systems biology. He has been featured internationally for his efforts to make synthetic biology more viable for interplanetary space missions.
Andrew founded two consulting companies, Mind Plus Matter and Helicase. While the former expertises in performance, productivity, and wellbeing, the latter is involved with emerging technologies. He is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Georgetown University and has had worked with the US government agencies.
Currently a Presidential Management Fellow at the U.S. Army, Cameron has researched on commercialization pathways for emerging technologies and explored the value of collaborative inquiry among social scientists and natural scientists. His audiences have been a diverse lot, including academia, military, government, media and civil society.
Camille is the founder CEO of Synbio Consulting and advises the European Commission on synthetic biology. He also founded Afineur, a startup that is making the coveted civet poop coffee without the civets. Earlier, his PhD thesis on creating artificial organelles to boost biofuel production in microbes had made it to the cover of Science.
An alumnus of MIT Media Labs, Connor co-founded DIYbio communities in Toronto and Montreal. Later, he co-founded Synbiota, which is an online platform to rapid prototype experiments in molecular biology.
He is a founding member of Desktop Genetics, a startup creating next-generation genome editing tools using CRISPR. Edward is an advocate of secure approaches to engineer living systems and seeks to foster deeper ties between national security and the biological sciences. He also works on the software track committee at the iGEM.
Having participated in iGEM twice, James co-founded LabGenius during his PhD at the Imperial College. The startup is working on software to help researchers design, procure, and optimize synthetic genes.
Jason co-founded Bioscentric, a company that leverages synthetic biology to develop sensory products for the fragrance, flavor and cosmetic industries. He has diverse experience as multiple roles within the fragrance industry, as a fellow at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and as a lawyer.
A Professor at the Centre for Synthetic and Systems Biology, University of Edinburgh, Jon’s current research involves structural biology, biochemistry, biophysics, and synthetic biology tools to understand metabolic compartmentalisation in bacteria. He hopes to reconfigure these systems for use as containers and scaffolds for biotechnology applications.
A designer, artist and creative director, Karen promotes scientific awareness through her work with Biobuilder, Brooklyn science cabaret, The Empiricist League, and SXSW Interactive. She was a member of Genspace and participated in the inaugural Community Labs track at iGEM. Her work at Cut/Paste/Grow is at the intersection of biology and design.
Co-founder of Revolution Bioengineering, Keira wishes to make biology more beautiful to possibly change the way public perceives GMOs. The startup is developing flowers that change colour throughout the day.
Combining two of his research interests, synthetic microbial ecosystems for rapidly evolving molecular tools and the Crispr/Cas9 system, Kevin realized that Cas9 could be used to build evolutionary stable gene drives and used to alter wild populations. Now, realizing the implications of his work, he advocates open, inclusive discussions before work on technologies based on gene drives.
Kim De Mora
Starting with participating in iGEM, something that he has now been involved for seven years, Kim got into a graduate program in yeast synthetic biology at Harvard Med. He is still with the iGEM, running the new tracks programs.
Lalitha is working at the University of Cambridge on developing a whole-cell bacterial biosensor to detect arsenic in groundwater samples. Realizing that the transition from lab to field should focus on responsible research and innovations, she is interested in exploring how lower income communities stand to benefit from synthetic biology, and in an ethical and sustainable manner.
As someone involved in finding both an online community for amateur biologists, DIYbio, and a public wetlab BOSS Lab, Mac’s been prolifically advocating for cheaper, accessible biotechnology. He also co-founded Cofactor Bio to develop a $25 PCR and sequencing reagents kit and Genefoo to develop cheap, open source molecular biology equipment. He has worked for iGEM as well.
He is a biomedical engineer working on the implementation of microfluidic technologies. Matthew is co-leading National Institute of Standards and Technology’s efforts to launch and host a Synthetic Biology Standards Consortium to develop consensus standards and metrology infrastructure with both academic and industrial partners.
Michael co-founded Sample6 Technologies, a synthetic biology startup aiming to improve the health and safety of global consumers. It is developing integrated systems to detect pathogens in food, healthcare, and other industries. He also co-founded BiotechStart.org to help entrepreneurs start more biotech companies.
She is a synthetic biologist researching natural and engineered transfer of genetic material to nuclear genomes. Nicola has earlier studied gene transfers from viruses and endosymbiotic acquisitions into plants. She is exploring ways to use plant biotechnology to alleviate problems caused by the dual challenges of under- and overnutrition.
She is an associate editor of the peer-reviewed journal, Biosecurity and Bioterrorism, and co-editor of the weekly newsletter, Preparedness Pulsepoints. Sanjana has been involved with synthetic biology, global health security, healthcare preparedness, and risk communication around medical countermeasure delivery.
Having worked as a postdoc on massive scale synthetic biology projects at the DOE Joint Genome Institute, Sarah is now at DOE Joint Bioenergy Institute, working on improving its host engineering capabilities and novel genome editing technologies.
Sean is the cofounder and CTO of Synthace where he is working on Antha, a high level language to automate protocols in biotechnology. Earlier, he was involved in research into protein folding, protein structure prediction, and gene coding.
Ted serves as the CEO of Prokarium, a synthetic biology company in the UK. It has modified Salmonella to be taken orally which then elicits body’s own immune cells to produce vaccines. The technology is in clinical trials.