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. These include:
(i) The introduction of standardised, modular DNA parts and new methods for rapid assembly of synthetic genetic circuits.
(ii) Generation of 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.
(iv) Systems for transient gene expression in contained hosts, and transgene-free genome editing to avoid the costs, resources and regulatory hurdles associated with the deployment of genetically modified organisms.
These new 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.
The Biomaker initiative funds small-scale projects at the intersection of the new biology and other sciences, in order to engineer low-cost tools, real-world applications and explore policy development.
Our two main aims are:
1. To encourage interdisciplinary and inter-institutional collaborations and promote wider exchange of skills and innovation.
2. To generate open, low-cost tools and methods that can be used for training and technology transfer worldwide.
Biotechnology is fertile ground for international exchange, and capacity-building based on open technologies and exchange should be a major component of any funding initiative. Synthetic biology can provide better solutions for: (i) rapid-response production of vaccines and biologics, (ii) point-of-use diagnostics and field biosensors, (iii) agricultural crop improvement using non-transgenic (genome editing) tools, and (iv) harnessing local biodiversity to build a sustainable bioeconomy.
In each of these applications, the development of practical solutions and social impact requires: Shared curricula for training and biotechnology education in resource-poor communities and institutes; Building local expertise through exchange and shared knowledge; and Establishing in-country facilities for generation and exchange of open-source tools and materials.