Events

EUSynBioS Symposium 2019 & Biomania Scientific Student Meeting

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The fourth EUSynBioS Symposium was held this year together with the Biomania Student Scientific Meeting from the 30th of September to the 1st of October in Brno, Czech Republic. Young European researchers from synthetic biology and biomedicine came together to present and discuss recent advances in their fields during two exciting days inside the sleek and futuristic facilities of the Brno Observatory and Planetarium.

The first day was dedicated to biomedicine and biotechnology, and kicked off with an introduction by Pavel Dvořák. Pavel, a former member of the EUSynBioS Steering Committee and currently PI at Masaryk University Brno, chaired the conference on behalf of Biomania, an organization in Brno with the goal to bring students from various branches of natural sciences and biomedicine together. As such, it was a great opportunity for EUSynBioS to join hands with a closely connected and similar-minded organization and introduce synthetic biology to a young new audience. Throughout the day, many researchers presented their work and proved that the Czech Republic in general and Brno in particular are an emerging engine for biomedicine and biotechnology in Europe. Marek Mráz from Masaryk University gave a keynote lecture on the regulation of B-cell receptor signaling in B-cell leukemias, and Lenka Bešše from the Kantonsspital St. Gallen gave a lecture on drug resistance and drug repurposing in multiple myeloma.

On the second day of the joint event, EUSynBioS took over from Biomania. Cléa Lachaux, the EUSynBioS Academic Communication Officer, introduced the organization with a short presentation and announced the recently acquired legal status (as of August 2019, EUSynBioS is a registered non-profit organization based in Paris. Read more here). She was closely followed by Louise Horsfall, senior lecturer in biotechnology at the University of Edinburgh, with her keynote lecture on the biological up-cycling of metals. Having a circular economy in mind, her work represents an essential step towards a more sustainable future with the help of synthetic biology. Nico Claassens from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam took up the same topic and discussed the role of synthetic biology for sustainability, or more precisely the role of synthetic metabolism, in one of the three break-out sessions of the day. 

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Break-out sessions, by now an essential building block in EUSynBioS symposia, give the chance to discuss topics in detail while in small groups and on a more informal level, making them an attractive alternative to big talks in crowded halls. A second break-out session was led by Louise Horsfall and Joanna Sadler from the University of St. Andrews. It focused on equality and equity, an often ignored topic that is not necessarily an issue in synthetic biology research alone, but in scientific research in general. The last break-out session aimed to introduce iGEM, the largest synthetic biology competition for students in the world. Nemanja Stijepovic, the European ambassador for the iGEM foundation, presented former Czech iGEM teams and challenged the participants of the session to register their own (and first ever) team from Brno in 2020. 

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Besides the break-out sessions, the conference allowed many young synthetic biology researchers to present their work on a professional platform, be it with posters and discussions or with their own presentations from a wide range of synthetic biology areas. Eventually, the conference closed with the last keynote lecture by Jakob Schweizer, scientific coordinator of the MaxSynBio initiative at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics of Complex Technical Systems Magdeburg and member of the German Association for Synthetic Biology (GASB), who offered a refreshing and inspiring comparison between synthetic biology and the architectural school of Bauhaus. According to Schweizer, both fields strive towards minimalism, functionalism and modularization, and as such, parallels and common concepts should be examined with the prospect of mutual understanding and learning from experienced challenges and opportunities.

The academic program was embedded in a stimulating social framework, encompassing traditional food and music from the local Moravian region, a visit to the Mendel Museum, where Mendel originally performed his famous experiments on the heredity of genetic traits with peas in 1865, and a visit to the Villa Tugendhat, one of the most famous examples of Bauhaus architecture in Europe, which is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary. In contrast to previous locations for EUSynBioS symposia, Brno offered the chance to view synthetic biology from a new perspective and at the same time to present synthetic biology in an exciting city at the very center of Europe. It was a great experience and once more a symposium underlining the importance of Europe-wide exchange and cooperation in the field of synthetic biology. We, as EUSynBioS Steering Committee, thank Biomania for the great support and cooperation, the Brno Observatory and Planetarium for hosting us in their facilities, and our sponsors and media partners for their financial support. Above all, we want to thank all participants for their interest and passion and for making a European synthetic biology network reality.

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Announcement: EUSynBioS is a media partner of SynBio Markets 2019!

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SynBio Markets is the dedicated market facing global event for the synbio sector. The 2019 event takes place in Berlin 18-19 November. Check the impressive speaker lineup and join the discussion on the position of synthetic biology on the global economy.

EUSynBioS is very happy to announce that will be a media partner for the SynBio Markets 2019. Our members enjoy a 15% discount, check our newsletter for the discount code!

See you in Berlin!

First Meet Up of the Greek iGEM teams

iGEM Thessaly: The research team from the University of Thessaly organized the First Meet Up of all the Greek iGEM teams at the city of Larissa on Saturday 13 July. 



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The students of the iGEM Thessaly team conducted from 12 to 14 of July a meeting with the Greek teams iGEM Athens and Thessaloniki that are also taking part in the iGEM competition this year at the city of Larissa, Thessaly. 

iGEM is an international completion taking place in Boston on October. It started in 2004 at MIT with only a few teams participating, exclusively from the United States. Today, there are more than 300 teams competing from all over the world. 

One of iGEM’s main goals is to promote collaboration among the iGEM teams and, as an extension, to society. In this context, iGEM Thessaly hosted the First Greek Meet Up and invited iGEM Athens and Thessaloniki to Larissa. The aim of this meet-up was for every team to present their project to the rest and receive useful feedback, comments, and ideas. The conference that was held on Saturday 13th of July.Apart from the teams’ presentations, an iGEM Alumni panel (consisting of exceptional guests with great experience in the iGEM competition) initiated  a constructive discussion with and filled a lot of gaps for the students that are making their first attempt to participate in something this big. 

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The conference was enriched by interesting talks by postdoctoral researchers of the Department of Biochemistry and Biotechnology. The invited speakers  were Constantine Garagounis, from the Laboratory of Plant and Environmental Biotechnology, and Konstantina Tsoumani , from the Laboratory of Molecular Biology and Genomics., We were also happy to host the coordinator of Academia and Research Committee of After iGEM Thea Chrysostomou, the iGEM Sheffield supervisor Dimitris Michailidis, and Giannis Ntekas, iGEM Athens 2018 team leader. Finally,  it was a great honor that our PI Papadopoulou Kalliope, who has been supporting as from the beginning, attended our meet up. 

We wish good luck to all the Greek iGEM teams! 


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iGEM Thessaly’s research project is being supported by the research infrastructure Omic- Engine, States Scholarship Foundation (ΙΚΥ), Research Committee of the University of Thessaly, Hellenic Petroleum, and ELPEN. 


Contact

iGEM Thessaly

e-mail: igem.thessaly@gmail.com 

website: http://igem-thessaly.uth.gr 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/igemthessaly 

Ιnstagram: https://www.instagram.com/igemthessaly 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/igemthessaly 

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBHXzFL7r9xxHxqQICznphA 

The First Synthetic Biology Conference in Cyprus

AfteriGEM, the University of Nicosia, The Cyprus Institute of Neurology and Genetics, the Cyprus School of Molecular Medicine and the European University of Cyprus joined together to make the first SynBio Conference in Cyprus reality on the 29th and 30th of March, 2019. The conference scope was dedicated to the advancement of synthetic biology, education, and the development of an open community

by Thea Chrysostomou

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Synthetic biology as an emerging interdisciplinary field that focuses on the design and creation of new biological components, as well as the reprogramming of already existing biological systems to function as optimized entities, served as a catalyst and started the national and academic conversation on the possible benefits it can bring to the island. This conference helped us understand the benefits and implications of this encounter between technology and biology, and how SynBio can add value to all aspects of Cyprus and global society in medicine, technology, research, education, environment, economy, agriculture and even art.

Results are so far promising; new biological parts and systems such as tumor-seeking microbes for cancer treatment and photosynthetic systems for fuel production are only the beginning of a series of in-progress developments which have the potential to positively reshape everyday life. 

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Through panel discussions and talks of 25 speakers from around the world, this event gave the Cypriot scientific and business ecosystem the opportunity to push the boundaries of synthetic biology and through the starting line of this movement - the intersection between biology and technology - in the island as well.

After the introduction for the conference in the local TV by the former minister of health, Dr. Stavros Malas and Thea Chrysostomou (EU iGEM Ambassador), the first day of the conference started with Thea and Representatives of Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education addressing the audience, followed by panel discussions.

Dr. Tuck Seng Wong from the University of Sheffield in UK, Dr. Lital Alfonta from the Ben Gurion University in Israel, Dr. Vassily Hadjimanikatis from Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, Dr. Konstantinos Vavitsas from the University of Queensland, Australia, and Dr. Kostas Mathiopoulos from the University of Thessaly gave us some insights on SynBio communities and iGEM teams regionally, their experiences, educational hubs and what could be some differentiating factors to bring constituents such as academia, research, industry, government involvement for the ecosystem of Cyprus to thrive on this field and be part of this movement.

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Meagan Lizarazo, the Vice President of the iGEM foundation gave a very interesting talk on the history of iGEM and SynBio, vision for the future, startups, success stories in a global level (eg. PvP Biologics, Bluepha).

Prof. Lital Alfonta talked more about her research on “Genetic Code expansion for improved electron transfer”, Prof. Philippos Patsalis about his company NIPD Genetics on “Non-invasive Genetic Tests for Reproductive Medicine and Oncology”, Dr. Yiannis Sarigiannis on “Synthetic Biology as a useful tool in antimicrobial drug discovery”, Dr. George M. Spyrou on “ Systems Bioinformatics and Network Rewiring towards Precision Medicine”,  Dr Margarita Zachariou on “Computational Modelling of Brain/Neural Plasticity”, Dr. Vasiliki Gkretsi on “Targeting metastasis: could Ras Suppressor-1 be the key?”Dr. Kyriaki Michailidou “Large Scale genomics association studies in breast cancer”, Dr. Tuck Seng Wong on “Biological carbon dioxide capture and utilization(bioCCU)”, DR. Vasilly Hatzimanikatis on “What do we need from nature’s chemical toolbox for Synthetic Metabolism?”, Dr. Kostas Mathiopoulos on “Enginnering insects for pest control” and Dr Konstantinos Vavitsas on “ Driving synthetic Biology on with sunlight”.

We also had some after iGEMers and current iGEM teams presenting their experience in iGEM, how it shaped their career, what effect it has on their lives being part of this ecostystem and their research projects. Yiannis Ntekas from the National Technical University of Athens from iGEM 2018 talked about “Toehold switch enabled viral detection via routine glucose monitoring technology”, Fran Quero from the Complutense Univeristy of Madrid, iGEM 2018 and 2019 talked about “ From DIYBio to iGEM. The Spanish example.” Alexis Casas and Antoine Levrier from Bettencourt iGEM team 2018 in Paris on “Cell- free expression platforms enable ne possibilitis at iGEM and beyond”. Chris Graham from the University of Nottingham, iGEM 2017 on “Synthetic Biology in UK, a biological key and how iGEM changes a young scientist’s perspective”. Athina Milona and Thodori Kontogiannis represented iGEM Thessaly 2019 on “ Spot the iGEM impact; a Greek aspect of a worldwide phenomenon”. Dimitrios Michailidis from the University of Sheffield talked about Life after University. My colleague Will Wright talked about afteriGEM and entrepreneurial opportunities in iGEM and Thomas Landrain on his startups: La Paillasse, PILI, and cJOGL.

It is my conviction that the projects presented during this conference have made all of us wealthier in knowledge, ideas, and inspiration.

It is my conviction that the projects presented during this conference have made all of us wealthier in knowledge, ideas, and inspiration.

iGEM Cyprus will participate in 2020 as a research team representing the island in Boston with all the major Unis in the country involved.

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Thea Chrysostomou is currently working for the iGEM Foundation as the European Ambassador. At the same time she is continuing her research on Machine Learning and Biophysics in Paris. She has graduated from the University of Sheffield as a Biomedical Scientist.

TransCon2019: Understanding and managing microbial biotransformation of environmental contaminants

by Anastasia P. Athanasakoglou

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With a stunning view on Lago Maggiore a diverse cohort of researchers working in the field of microbial biotransformation got together at TransCon2019, held at Congressi Stefano Franscini, Monte Verità, Switzerland between 28/4 – 3/5. The organizers Kathrin Fenner (Eawag, Switzerland), Jörg Drewes (Technical University Munich, Germany), and Paolo Demaria (Demaria Event Management, Zurich, Switzerland) prepared an exciting agenda, bringing together people with different backgrounds, all working on understanding and managing microbial communities that are used to detoxify chemical contaminants in natural resources and engineered environments.

Jörg Drewes (Technical University Munich, Germany) kicked off the meeting with a talk that highlighted past progress, current challenges and future directions in the field of microbial biotransformation. In the first session, participants had the opportunity to discuss about the experimental toolbox currently assisting the efforts of understanding microbial communities, environmental contaminants, and their interactions. A wide range of bioinformatics pipelines, analytical chemistry methods, and meta-omic approaches seem to be essential to comprehend such complex systems. Environmental and operational factors in wastewater treatment are also highly influencing the decontamination process, adding another level of complexity to the system. These factors, as well as the issues of bioavailability and bioaccessibility of trace contaminants, were presented and discussed in the following two sessions.

The next topic to be addressed was microbial biotransformation, a still challenging to address matter. Is it possible to link certain species and/or their enzymes to specific biodegradation pathways? A number of recent studies on this topic was presented and discussed, illustrating how microbial diversity influences elimination of contaminants, highlighting at the same time the limitations of establishing causal linkages between reactions and enzymes or species. Michael Zimmermann (Yale University, USA) demonstrated how the expression of specific genes from certain species in other microbial communities, those of the human gut, are affecting the metabolism of drugs, offering great insights into how this approach could be used to elucidate biotransformation in environmental microbial communities.

All previous sessions had nicely created the basis for the discussions that followed on the 4th day of TransCon2019. The improved understanding of biotransformation reactions offers new opportunities for applications. First, by predicting reactions and comparing biotransformation efficiency across different environments, it should be possible to improve the assessment of the fate of trace contaminants in the environment. Second, it would be feasible to design improved next-generation treatment processes.  The latterwas approachedin the final session of the meeting, both fromthe engineers’ point of view but also from a biological perspective. Victor de Lorenzo (CSIC, Spain) demonstrated how to use metabolic engineering to understand how environmental strains evolve pathways to degrade contaminants, information particularly desired for rational design of efficient whole-cell biocatalysts.

Finally,thecontribution of the synthetic biology toolbox in monitoring and tackling environmental pollution was presented by Catherine Fan (Oxford University). Catherine focused her talk on the technology of SimCells (simple simulated cells), a variation of minimal cells that are unable to replicate, thus offering a promising alternative synthetic biology chassis for environmental applications.

TransCon2019 illustrated in the best way how different fields can join forces to address multi-facet problems, such as this of environmental contaminant biotransformation. Chemists, biologists and engineers got together, exchanged ideas and created a strong basis for future research.




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Anastasia Athanasakoglou is a postdoctoral researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology. She completed her PhD in biochemistry of marine natural products at the University of Copenhagen, where she also worked on Synthetic Biology approaches to establish production of secondary metabolites in heterologous hosts. Currently, she is working on investigating and characterizing metabolic pathways in complex microbial communities responsible for degradation of environmental pollutants. Find her on Twitter and Researchgate.