­Synthetic Biology in Action Workshop at the EMBL in Heidelberg

The EMBL recently organised a practical workshop in synthetic biology at the EMBL-Heidelberg. Steering committee member, Nico Koutsoubelis attended the course and spoke to the organiser, Prof Victor de Lorenzo, a EUSynbioS Advisory Board member and PI at the CNB, Madrid. 

Earlier this year I saw an advertisement from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) about the workshop, “Synthetic Biology in Action”. I was excited to see the EMBL turning to synthetic biology and working actively to foster synthetic biology in Europe! Fortunately I was able to attend this great two-week course organized by Prof Victor de Lorenzo from the Spanish National Center for Biotechnology and have a great conversation with him regarding synthetic biology in Europe. The group of attendants was very diverse, in terms of  career progress, background and nationality.

In a short interview, Victor explained to me that for him this group showed how diverse the field of SynBio in Europe is. This diversity is a great opportunity for the whole field of SynBio as it may lead to a lot of different perspectives and applications. He explained to me that Synthetic Biology is, at the end of the day, a way to look at biological problems with the eyes of an engineer. For him, there are many possibilities for the field from fundamental to applied sciences, just like in the 1980s, when molecular biology changed our view of biological systems. But like back then, it is hard to predict the path SynBio will take.

...we still have many knowledge gaps from the writing of a DNA sequence to observing something—this limits us in our possibilities
— Prof Victor de Lorenzo, CNB-Madrid

We as participants were split into five groups following different practical tasks. These tasks included projects like yeast metabolic engineering and the engineering of a genetic firewall in E.coli. By the end of the course, all of us were able to generate some data and the tasks were fulfilled. Each group also gave a short video presentation that will be uploaded to the iBiology webpage.

The workshop also included very interesting talks by different PIs from the field, who presented their current work. Being a relatively small audience we had the opportunity to partake in long discussions during talks. Afterwards great speakers like Tim Lu, Chis Voigt, Sven Panke, Martin Fussenegger and many more spent some time with us for further discussions and an  exchange of ideas. Besides discussions with the PIs about their research, we had several discussions regarding the limitations of Synthetic Biology.

According to Victor de Lorenzo, the main limitation is that we still lack a lot of fundamental biological knowledge. We have a good picture of the chain of events from having the DNA to getting to the final phenotype. But we still have many knowledge gaps from the writing of a DNA sequence to observing somethingthis limits us in our possibilities. We have to revisit fundamental processes with the tools of Synthetic Biology to be able to develop orthogonality to engineer biological systems.  

While this course gave us a chance to learn a lot about Synthetic Biology and meet interesting personalities from the field, the exchange with fellow participants was in my opinion, the most exciting part of the event. I'm looking forward to more synthetic biology events organised by the EMBL!


Written by:

Nicolas Koutsoubelis

Nico is a PhD student at the Max-Planck-Institute and the Center for Synthetic Microbiology (SYNMIKRO) in Marburg, Germany. A part of the EUSynBioS steering committee, Nico's goal is to bring the Synthetic Biology (SynBio) Community in Europe closer together.

Edited by: Devang Mehta

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