Aims of the Biomaker initiative
The field of Synthetic Biology is introducing low-cost, breakthrough technologies for a wide range of practical challenges including diagnostics, environmental conservation, microbial bioproduction, crop improvement and human health. These are of critical importance to the future well-being and economic development of sustainable societies across the planet.
Synthetic Biology is adopting technical engineering approaches for the reprogramming of biological systems, including: (i) the introduction of standardised, modular DNA parts and new methods for rapid assembly of synthetic genetic circuits, (ii) new legal frameworks, repositories and open source technologies for the free exchange of genetic components, (iii) Production of simple, DNA-programmable cell free expression systems that can be freeze-dried, shipped and stored without refrigeration. These are GMO-free and can be used in the field or classroom without expensive facilities or elaborate containment, and (iv) systems for transient gene expression in contained hosts, and transgene-free genome editing to reduce the costs, resources and regulatory hurdles associated with the deployment of genetically modified organisms.
The Biomaker programme provides funding for project-based learning at the intersection of electronics, 3D printing, sensor technology, low cost DIY instrumentation and biology. Biomaker aims to build open tools and promote development of research skills and interdisciplinary collaborations. The programme is being built in three stages. First, we are exploiting existing open standards and a rich ecosystem of resources for microcontrollers, first established to simplify programming and physical computing for designers, artists and scientists. These resources provide a simple environment for biologists to learn programming and hardware skills, and develop real-world laboratory tools. Further, the Biomaker projects provide a direct route for physical scientists and engineers to get hands-on experience with biological systems. Second, we will introduce cell-free systems to implement DNA programming in a way that is low-cost and easy to implement. Third, we will develop appliances and open curricula for worldwide use.
Synthetic Biology technologies are relatively low-cost, but their adoption is often limited by deficits in technical training, poor access to new research materials, inadequate laboratory facilities, and lack of strategic partnerships with leading research institutions. We aim to develop tools for improved synthetic biology training in schools, universities, community labs and industry. We believe that efforts to develop open standards and protocols for DNA parts and low-cost DIY tools will provide a major impetus for democratisation of this new technology, and facile transfer from richer to poorer countries.