EUSynBioS Symposium

SynBioS - towards stronger international connections in synthetic biology

DqHnwBcWoAAO48Y.jpg-large.jpeg

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.

Toulouse_1-1024x603.jpg

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!

Toulouse_2-1024x572.jpg
Toulouse-banner.png

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.

EUSynBioS Symposium 2016: engineering biology for a better future

An event summary

The European Association of Synthetic Biology Students and Postdocs (EUSynBioS) is an initiative aiming to bring together the younger members of the synthetic biology community. This intercommunication can take various forms and happen across vast distances, however personal interaction is hard to replace. Hence, our first symposium took place in Imperial College, London, last week (April 9-10), with participants from eight countries and numerous institutions.

Dr. Tom Knight, Ginkgo bioworks

Dr. Tom Knight, Ginkgo bioworks

The Symposium kicked off with a keynote talk from Tom Knight, founder of Ginkgo Bioworks and one of the most prominent figures in synthetic biology. He narrated his early steps in the field, as well as his perspectives for the future, especially under the light of powerful computer simulations, cheap oligonucleotide synthesis, and high throughput analysis.

When cheap oligos are mentioned Twist Bioscience is one of the first brands that come to mind. The company's CEO and founder, Emily Leproust, presented her reasons for leaving academia for the industry and then starting a company. She compared the working conditions and the career perspectives in both environments, and ended her talk with motivational advice for succeeding in the corporate world.

Presentations by dr. Emily Leproust (Twist Bioscience) and prof. Luke Alphey (The Pirbright Institute)

Presentations by dr. Emily Leproust (Twist Bioscience) and prof. Luke Alphey (The Pirbright Institute)

Our last but not least industry speaker was Luke Alphey, Professor at Pirbright Institute and founder of Oxitec. His talk centered around the control of dengue fever-spreading mosquitoes in Brasil, the field trials, and the successful public engagement and involvement of the local population and authorities. The keynote talks concluded with Michele Garfinkel, working at the EMBO Science Policy Programme. Synthetic biology regulation is a topic that both interests and troubles researchers. Moreover, as Michele explained, efficient regulation and monitoring is a prerequisite for public acceptance of our emerging discipline.

But the theme of the Symposium was how you (the community members) engineer biology. Therefore, we featured six interesting talks and several poster presentations, with topics ranging from law and regulation to xenobiology and high-end computations. The presentations stimulated interesting questions, while the posters were swarming with people. All those created a nice atmosphere and the engagement of the participants was motivating.

Captions from the participants presentations and the poster and breakout sessions.

Captions from the participants presentations and the poster and breakout sessions.

The breakout sessions, where the participants had the chance to discuss synthetic biology topics with experts in the field, and the open discussion about gene drives (to be covered in more detail in a future post) proved to be the highlights of the day. Interesting - and sometimes conflicting - opinions were expressed, and discussions that started continued throughout the breaks and the small reception which terminated the first day. The second day was more relaxing, and included a visit to the London Biohackspace. 

Sometimes words are not enough, one has to employ their hands to get a message through..

Sometimes words are not enough, one has to employ their hands to get a message through..

Overall, I think our first EUSynBioS event was a success, and hopefully one of the many events that will follow throughout Europe. Me and the rest of the Steering Committee would like to kindly thank the keynote speakers and the leaders of the breakout sessions and all the people from Imperial College and SynBIC that worked hard for the event to take place. All photographs are courtesy of Ona Anilionyte.


Written by: Konstantinos Vavitsas

Edited by: Stefano Donati

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.

 

 

Present your research at the EUSynBioS Symposium 2016!

EUSynBioS is at heart a student and post-doc organisation and in that vein we've allocated all of the science-related speaking time at our inaugural symposium for early career researchers to present their science. If you're a PhD student or post-doc with a great idea or new results to share, the EUSynBioS Symposium 2016 is the place to do so.

All you need to do is register for the symposium and submit a poster abstract to the theme, "How do you engineer biology for a better future". Selected poster submissions will be invited to present their research on the main stage at the Symposium! 

Share your research with peers and get feedback from leading synbio experts!