EUSynBioS Symposium

Keynote speaker confirmed: Jakob Schweizer

We are happy to announce Jakob Schweizer as second keynote speaker for the 2019 EUSynBioS symposium!

Jakob Schweizer received his PhD at the Technical University in Dresden under the supervision of Petra Schwille. During that time he held a scholarship of the German Research Foundation and was involved in research coordination as well as public relations. Since 2014 he has been the Scientific Coordinator of MaxSynBio, the Max Planck Research Network for Synthetic Biology.

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Modularity, functionality and rational design are properties that constitute the essence of synthetic biology. However, these properties and goals are not unique to synthetic biology research alone. Jakob Schweizer will draw in his talk the unexpected comparison to the architectural style of Bauhaus, which marks the 100th anniversary of its creation this year. Bauhaus is characteristic for its minimalism and functionalism, and common grounds and boundaries will be discussed in Brno, a city hosting Villa Tugendhat, one of the most prototypical and at the same time outstanding examples of Bauhaus architecture in Europe.

Stay tuned, more speakers to be announced in the next few days! And don’t forget to register to the EuSynBioS 2019 symposium!

Keynote speaker confirmed: Louise Horsfall

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We are very happy to announce our first keynote speaker for our EUSynBioS symposium, Louise Horsfall from the University of Edinburgh!

Louise Horsfall, a Senior Lecturer in Biotechnology at the University of Edinburgh, is interested in multidisciplinary challenges involving Biotechnology and Synthetic Biology.
She is the recipient of the University of Edinburgh’s 2015 Chancellor’s Rising Star Award, the elected co-chair of the Bioengineering and Bioprocessing Section of the European Federation of Biotechnology and a member of the EPSRC's Early Career Forums in both Manufacturing Research and Engineering. Louise was awarded a 5-year Early Career Fellowship in Engineering for Sustainability and Resilience by the EPSRC in 2017.

Stay tuned, more speakers to be announced in the next few days! And don’t forget to register to the EuSynBioS 2019 symposium!

SynBioS - towards stronger international connections in synthetic biology

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Accompanying adolescence of the discipline of synthetic biology, the past five years have seen many local, national, and supranational synthetic biology groups founded around the globe. United in the aims of promoting synthetic biology research as well as professional and policy development, the associations can benefit substantially from forging and maintaining strong horizontal connections.

On October 23rd, representatives from six national and supranational synthetic biology associations - EUSynBioS (Europe), SynBio UK (United Kingdom), GASB (Germany), SynBio  Australasia (Oceania), SynBio Canada (Canada), and EBRC SPA (United States of America) came together at the 2018 EUSynBioS Symposium Toulouse to set the foundation for a new international collaborative effort, the SynBioS Consortium. The representatives introduced their history, activities, and future plans through short presentations and discussed various topics of mutual interest, such as funding, social media, and science policy.

Concluding the workshop, the representatives confirmed their interest in continuing discussions as part of the future SynBioS Consortium, which will include regular online meetings focused on exchanging advice, coordinating initiatives, and reviewing progress.

We are looking forward to advancing synthetic biology together and encourage other national synthetic biology associations to join our endeavour.

  • EUSynBioS, SynBio UK, GASB, SynBio Australasia, SynBio Canada, EBRC SP

From Asilomar to Toulouse – Bringing Researchers Together and Synthetic Biology to the Forefront

In frosty February 1975, molecular biologists gathered at Asilomar (California, USA) for a conference going down in history. Following the recombinant DNA revolution, the ethical usage of recombinant DNA in research was discussed. Many aspects of this gathering foreshadowed issues that the child of recombinant DNA technology, synthetic biology, is struggling with nowadays. Asilomar helped shape recombinant DNA technologies and bring them into the public eye by bringing together the researchers involved in this topic.

In sunny October 2018, about 100 synthetic biologists from all over the world gathered in Toulouse, from Master’s students all the way up to distinguished professors and leaders in the field of synthetic biology. In a meeting jointly organized by the European Association of Synthetic Biology Students and Post-docs (EUSynBioS) and the French Research Group on Synthetic and Systems Biology (BioSynSys) at the Institut National des Sciences Appliquées de Toulouse (INSA Toulouse), scientists had the chance to engage in fascinating presentations and discussions with their peers. This joint meeting was a first for both organisations and has shown the potential of collaboration between local and international scientific organisations to foster connection, exchange of ideas, and collaborations.

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During four days, leaders of synthetic biology such as Prof. Dr. Sven Panke from ETH Zurich, Prof. Dr. Beatrix Suess from TU Darmstadt or Prof. Dr. Jérôme Bonnet from the University of Montpellier explained their latest advances in very diverse areas of synthetic biology to the audience. Additionally, many young researchers had the chance to present their research in oral presentations and posters. Led by the idea of a circular bioeconomy powered by synthetic biology, which was illustrated by a keynote presentation by Dr. Lorie Hamelin and an open discussion with leaders in the field. This meeting in Toulouse gave to young as well as to established researchers a potential way forward in our climate change-endangered world.

Another way forward was illustrated in workshops conducted during the conference. Dr. Konstantinos Vavitsas discussed the important longstanding issue of standards in synthetic biology with the participants, Nadine Bongaerts prepared them for conversations with the public through science communication and Dr. Pablo Ivan Nikel led a career development workshop to ensure the success of the young researchers present. Accompanied by delicious French food & wines, our participants thus had plenty of exciting science around them, which would have turned the Asilomar participants green with envy!

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Yet there is an additional parallel with conferences such as Asilomar: organization, representation and the determination to bring the topic into the public eye. Next to EUSynBioS, national associations for synthetic biology such as the German Association for Synthetic Biology (GASB), Synthetic Biology Canada (SynBio Canada), Synthetic Biology Australasia (SBA), Synthetic Biology UK (SynBio UK) and the US-based Engineering Biology Research Consortium Student and Postdoc Association (EBRC SPA) also presented their organizations and plans for the future. With the aim of constructing a worldwide SynBioS Consortium to help coordinate initiatives and strengthen the ties between countries and continents, the national associations exchanged information and engaged in fruitful discussion. Analogous to Asilomar, meetings such as this symposium in Toulouse helps to shape the development of synthetic biology, both within as well as without by modulating its interaction with the general public surrounding it. This is particularly important nowadays, in a world endangered by climate-change and in which scientists and synthetic biologists need to bring forward new solutions to solve humanities’ most pressing challenges.

After four days of intense engagement on every level, the participants travelled back to their respective countries, enriched in knowledge, connections, and experiences. If our participants have even a fraction of the satisfaction we have with the event then we can consider it as a major success. See you at the next synthetic biology symposium!

Posted by courtesy of the PLOS Synbio Community blog, where this was originally published.

Daniel Bojar    and    Adam Amara    are EUSynBioS steering committee members.    Alicia Calvo-Villamañán    is a member of the student committee at BioSynSys.

Daniel Bojar and Adam Amara are EUSynBioS steering committee members. Alicia Calvo-Villamañán is a member of the student committee at BioSynSys.

SynBio Breakout Sessions: what do they tell about our community?

Participants of the first EUSynBioS Symposium in April 2016. Image by Ona Anilionyte.

Participants of the first EUSynBioS Symposium in April 2016. Image by Ona Anilionyte.

Starting from a set of activities pursued by a small number of researchers, the discipline of synthetic biology has taken a remarkable trajectory over the past decade. However, the rapid growth of synthetic biology has also provoked concerns about its prospective impact on society and the environment, which needs to be addressed by future leaders of the field.

Taking a first step towards tackling this challenge, we recently brought together students and postdoctoral researchers from ten different countries at our inaugural EUSynBioS Symposium. Various aspects relevant to building a future vision for the young synthetic biology community were discussed by attendees in scope of our SynBio Breakout Sessions facilitated by experts from ecology, design, and science policy. What have they told about the synthetic biology community of the future?

 
SynBio Breakout Session on Diversity. Image by Christian R. Boehm.

SynBio Breakout Session on Diversity.
Image by Christian R. Boehm.

Embracing diversity is key, so agree participants of the Breakout Session led by Prof. Louise Horsfall (University of Edinburgh). However, the issue of diversity goes beyond gender and ethnic background of researchers. We should make an effort to include people from a variety of age groups, socio-economic backgrounds, and life-styles. Can a non-scientist be a true synthetic biologist? Or someone who only works part of the time because they choose to take time for family? We think yes, because otherwise we may miss out on a lot of different perspectives and potential for creativity. The synthetic biology community needs role models which appeal to various groups in society and can thus encourage both engagement and public acceptance.

 
SynBio Breakout Session on Responsible Innovation. Image by Christian R. Boehm.

SynBio Breakout Session on Responsible Innovation. Image by Christian R. Boehm.

A Breakout Session on the issue of Responsible Innovation led by Dr. Michele Garfinkel (EMBO) surfaced several issues about researchers’ responsibilities, including in what ways the public’s views of them matters. The session participants also discussed what the emerging idea of responsible innovation means and pointed out some possible concerns about the definition of the concept in the broader scientific community. Awareness about both responsible conduct of research and responsible innovation needs to be raised generally, and there was some agreement that it should be introduced as an inherent part of good research, reinforced through the scientific community itself both at the bench and by means of discussion sessions like the ones hosted on this occasion.

 
SynBio Breakout Session on Education&Outreach. Image by Christian R. Boehm.

SynBio Breakout Session on Education&Outreach.
Image by Christian R. Boehm.

Encouragingly, the vast majority of attendees of a Breakout Session led by Prof. Anne Osbourn (John Innes Centre, Norwich) were of the opinion that education and outreach were important, and they moreover felt a responsibility to be proactive in this area. Taking part in outreach and education was seen as a mutually beneficial activity, yet young researchers found it regrettably difficult to identify opportunities to become involved. On a related note, young researchers felt that opportunities for training in how to communicate effectively with an audience of non-scientists were rather scarce. To contribute to closing this gap, we (EUSynBioS) are actively looking for initiatives in the area of science education to work with members of our network.

 

So what is the synthetic biology community going to look like in the future? We do not know for sure yet, but the first SynBio Breakout Sessions revealed its promise: our community embraces a number of young researchers who deeply care about their impact on society and the environment. They are actively looking for opportunities to become better at engaging the public and communicating what they do to a non-specialist audience.

To realize this potential, the organizers of dedicated synthetic biology courses and graduate programs to be established over the years to come are challenged to incorporate relevant training opportunities into their curricula wherever possible. It is bound to pay off.


Written by: Christian R. Boehm

Disclaimer: Views and opinions expressed in EUSynBioS Pulse articles belong solely to the writer(s). They do not reflect the opinion of the Community, the Advisory Board or the Steering Committee.