Events

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.

 

 

2016 Synthetic Genome Summer Course

2016 Synthetic Genome Summer Course: July 3rd to July 7th // Edinburgh, Scotland (UK)

In conjunction with the 5th Annual Sc2.0 and Synthetic Genomes conference, the University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London and the BBSRC are running an exciting 5-day residential summer school in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh, Scotland (UK)

Edinburgh, Scotland (UK)

Learn practical lab techniques and the theory behind genome synthesis, CRISPR-Cas9 genome engineering and advanced synthetic biology. This innovative course runs for the 5-days before the conference and as part of the package all participants get attendance to the main conference, as well as 7 nights en-suite accommodation and meals. The price for the whole package is of  £420. The application procedure are already running and are based on a first-come-first-served basis. Therefore, make sure to register in time, the Summer School has a limited number of places!

For more details and for registration visit the Synthetic Genome Summer Course website.

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! 

Announcing the EUSynBioS Symposium 2016 (April 9-10th 2016, London, UK)

Design: Devang Mehta

Design: Devang Mehta

It is our pleasure to announce the first

EUSynBioS Symposium: Engineering Biology for a Better Future

which will be hosted by our partner SynbiCITE immediately after SynBioBeta London 2016, April 9-10th 2016 in London, UK!

We are witnessing an exciting time in the history of synthetic biology—while SynBERC 1.0 is approaching retirement, it has inspired the emergence of an impressive number of young synthetic biology initiatives and communities around the globe. By what principles, standards, and interactions can they best realise their potential in making the world a better place?

It is to address this question that we seek to bring together an enthusiastic international group of young synthetic biologists (embracing undergraduate and graduate students as well as postdocs) for 1.5 days packed with stimulating talks, unconference-like workshops, group discussions, bioindustry interaction, speed networking, and biohacking. Our overall goal is nothing less than to articulate a vision for the young synthetic biology community.

Are you into open, funky, and slightly unconventional synbio events? Then there is no better time than now for taking a big fluorescent marker and putting April 9-10th 2016 in your diaries! We will be regularly posting updates on the Symposium both on the Forum as well as our Twitter feed, so watch this space for speaker announcements and early-bird registration.

Your Steering Committee