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