OpenPlant Synthetic Biology Research Centre
OpenPlant is a joint initiative between the University of Cambridge, John Innes Centre and the Earlham Institute, funded by the BBSRC and EPSRC as part of the UK Synthetic Biology for Growth programme.
Synthetic Biology offers the prospect of reprogrammed biological systems for improved and sustainable bioproduction. While early efforts in the field have been directed at microbes, the engineering of plant systems offers even greater potential benefits. Plants are already cultivated globally at low cost, harvested on the giga-tonne scale, and routinely used to produce the widest range of biostuffs, from fibres, wood, oils, sugar, fine chemicals, drugs to food.
There is urgent need to improve our ability to reprogram crop metabolism and plant architecture in the face of global threats from new pathogens, climate change, soil degradation, restricted land use, salinity and drought. The next generation of DNA tools for "smart" breeding of crop systems should be shared - to promote global innovation and equitable access to sustainable bioeconomies.
- developing new tools and methods for plant synthetic biology,
- providing mechanisms for open sharing of standardised resources,
- applying these tools to world-leading projects in trait development, and
- facilitating interdisciplinary exchange, outreach and international development.
The initiative promotes interdisciplinary exchange, open technologies and responsible innovation for improvement of sustainable agriculture and conservation.
The Bakubung workshop explored the potential for recent advances in synthetic biology to bootstrap the growing bioeconomy in Africa. A new class of cell-free and transient expression systems are (i) cheap to deploy, (ii) have huge potential benefit for the provision of a wide variety of diagnostics, sensors, vaccines and research materials, (iii) avoid complications, delays and regulatory uncertainty associated with uncontained use of GMOs, and (iv) provide opportunities for high level, low cost training and capacity building.
However realisation of practical benefits requires international effort to build local expertise in the necessary technologies - through shared resources for high-level education and research training in resource-poor environments, and freedom-to-operate with open tools and materials. OpenPlant is helping to coordinate efforts in this area.