The Seventh International Meeting on Synthetic Biology, SB7.0, is fast approaching. On June 13 to June 16, the international synbio community will come together to take a fresh look at the challenges and opportunities that our field faces in every corner of the world. Now more than ever, the advance of our discipline needs to be seen as a global movement, based on collaboration and fostering ideation, innovation and execution at all levels in every region. Every node of this ecosystem needs to work together towards the growth of our science, its beneficial applications and responsible practices.
How can we enable synbio as a global phenomenon? What new ideas and technologies are emerging outside of the traditional ivory towers of scientific development? How are they being executed, and taken to the real world, and perhaps more importantly: how are they shaping it?
To discuss this and kick off the conference, SB7.0’s first session will explore precisely this topic: translating ideas into impact.
Osmat Jefferson, The Lens
The Lens is mapping the world’s knowledge and putting it at the service of those who want to apply it. Their global cyberinfrastructure serves nearly all of the patent documents in the world as open, annotatable digital public goods, and integrates them with scholarly, technical, regulatory and business data. All this with the objective of restoring the role of the patent system as a teaching resource for entrepreneurs, innovators, scientists and policy makers. This “Innovation cartography” initiative can not only democratize access to innovation information worldwide, but also make the whole system simpler, fairer, efficient and inclusive. As stated beautifully in their mission, the Lens “wants to make it possible for more people – different people – to serve the public good.”
Osmat Jefferson, professor of science, technology and law at QUT, is the head of biological patenting at The Lens. Her work on fostering cooperation and equal access to information has translated into the development of open public resources focused on making biological innovation information accessible and usable. In her article “Transparency tools in gene patenting for informing policy and practice” she highlights the importance of equal access to IP information, especially in biological sciences: “Our survey results confirm that public tools are not yet available in many of the emerging patent offices; thus, biological innovations that rely on genetic sequences can be severely affected when reaching global markets. [The lens is] a carefully designed public platform that can be a valuable alternative to the commercial services that serve only a few elite innovators in biological sciences.”
Reshma Shetty, Ginkgo Bioworks
Ginkgo has become one of the staple companies in the global synbio ecosystem. Their work as enablers of rapid prototyping for “designer microbes” has landed them major alliances and collaborations, including the recent acquisition of Gen9 and long standing relationship with Twist Bioscience, Amyris and many more.
But the organism company has also made sure to make history in other areas, such as diversity in their employee base. The company recently collaborated with SynBioBeta to create a more diverse and inclusive ecosystem for synbio, starting with the speakers for the past SynBioBeta London conference, where 47% of the speakers were women. It’s clear that innovation, to Ginkgo, doesn’t stop at the lab door.
Ginkgo will be represented by Reshma Shetty, co-founder. Shetty has been active in the synbio ecosystem for over 10 years, and even co-organized the first conference in the field: Synthetic Biology 1.0. She was named as one of the Eight People Inventing the Future by Forbes on 2008, and also included as one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company in 2011.
“The interesting thing about engineering biology is that it’s about bringing together a whole host of ideas and technologies,” stated Shetty in an interview with Huffington Post. “You need a team of people who are passionate about this work, a suite of technologies that makes it tractable to engineer biology, the resources to make it happen, the business model to capitalize on these technologies and an understanding of your customers who will be buying these organisms. There is no one magic silver bullet.”
Matthew Chang, SynCTI
Matthew Chang is the Program Director at The National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Synthetic Biology for Clinical and Technological Innovation (SynCTI). This research program was established in january of 2015 to anchor Singapore as one of the leading Synthetic Biology Hubs in the world, in order to develop novel biological systems with clinical and industrial applications. SynCTI is a multi-disciplinary program that comprises research staff from NUS’ faculties of Engineering, Science and the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine. And both interdiscipline and collaboration are part of its DNA: SynCTI was founded with an emphasis on international research collaboration, and hosts two joint global synthetic biology laboratories with the University of California, Berkeley (headed by Professor Jay Keasling) and with Imperial College London (led by Professor Paul Freemont) as well as establishing partnerships with Singer Instruments, BD Biosciences and others to co-develop new platform technologies based on the application of synthetic biology.
Chang has worked on the field of synthetic biology for over 10 years, pioneering techniques to develop programmable functions in biological systems. He has been honored with the Scientific and Technological Achievement Award from the US Environmental Protection Agency, and serves on the international advisory panel of SBOL, the Synthetic Biology Open Language initiative. Among his recent development work, his laboratory recently managed to modify yeast so that it converts food waste fats to recover approximately half its weight in butanol. This arose from the need to do something about Singapore’s over 600,000 tonnes of food waste incinerated yearly. According to The Straits Times Singapore, professor Chang said he thought scientists “could play a part in finding a solution to this growing problem”, thus leading the professor to investigate how to turn food waste into something useful through the use of biology.
Sang Yup Lee, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology
The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, or KAIST for short, was recognized in 2016 as the 6th most innovative university in the world according to Reuters, being one of the only 2 universities from outside of the US to make it to the ranking’s top 10. The university was established in 1971 to “model a research focused university and to foster elite human resources in science and technology needed by the nation.” This commitment to research and application is reflected in their research statistics, boasting over 300 international patent applications, 61 technology transfer contracts and nearly 3000 international journal publications for 2015, as well as a startup support ecosystem for technology commercialization.
KAIST will be represented by Dr. Sang Yup Lee, Dean of KAIST institutes, Director of the BioProcess Engineering Research Center, director of the Bioinformatics Research Center and Distinguished Professor at the Institute’s department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. He has published more than 5400 journal papers, 610 patents and 72 books/books chapters. Among his extensive list of accomplishments, he has served as the Chairman of the Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies and in Biotechnology, and is currently Chair of Global Future Council on Biotechnology at the World Economic Forum. He also founded the World Council on Industrial Biotechnology in 2010 and served as a Founding Chair for two years. His most recently published research sheds light on one of the biggest mysteries of biological plastic synthesis, describing the structure of the main enzyme responsible for the production of natural polyesters while also elucidating the synthase’s mechanism of action. This, according to Dr. Lee’s words on Science Daily regarding the discovery, could fuel the rational engineering of PHA synthases to turn designer bioplastic production more efficient and optimal.
Christina Smolke, Stanford and Antheia
Dr. Christina Smolke is known as a rising star in the biotech sphere, having spearheaded world-leading research programs in synthetic biology, yeast metabolic engineering and biomolecular engineering. She has pioneered the design and application of RNA devices, capable of process and transmit user-specified input signals to targeted protein outputs, successfully linking molecular computation to gene expression. This has even been extended to construct multi-input devices, demonstrating combinatorial assembly and enabling innovation regarding key challenges in cellular therapeutics, targeted molecular therapies and green biosynthesis strategies.
Dr. Smolke is currently on leave from her position as Associate professor of Bioengineering in Stanford to lead her startup, Antheia, as CEO and Director. Antheia aims to provide medicines to all who need them by generating a stable and cost-competitive supply of plant-based medicines. On 2015, her team published an article on Science showing the achievement of a full biosynthesis of opioids in yeast in just three to five days. By then, the yield was considerably small (4,400 gallons of bioengineered yeast would be needed to produce a single dose of pain relief) but it proved the feasibility of Antheia’s claim. “This is only the beginning,” stated Smolke in conversation with Stanford News. “The techniques we developed and demonstrate for opioid pain relievers can be adapted to produce many plant-derived compounds to fight cancers, infectious diseases and chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and arthritis.”
A great example of how academia-powered ideas can become business players with impact as their main objective – be them at Ginkgo’s established size and position, or quickly bubbling to the top like Antheia. The common denominator of enabling innovation and putting Impact on the spotlight permeates all the speakers of this session – and will hopefully help permeate everyone else in our field as well.
SB7.0’s first session, From Ideas to Impact, will take place at 9:30 AM on June 13 at the National University of Singapore.