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 an 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. Further details of the vision and working principles of the OpenPlant initiative can be found on the VISION page.
OpenPlant supports mini-funding of interdisciplinary projects. The aim is to use these joint projects to build collaborations between biologists, engineers, physicists, programmers and others - using an interdisciplinary activity as common ground for exchange. We have two models for funding: The OpenPlant Fund awards teams £4,000 of support for a very wide range of areas - running from Social Sciences workshops to synthetic gene synthesis and testing, to hardware construction. Teams are offered £1,000 follow-on funding for outreach or further development of the project, conditional on public documentation of the project. The second model, the Biomaker Challenge, requires teams to bid for a £250 Starter Kit of electronics and access to £750 worth of additional components and 3D printing services. The teams work on their projects over the summer, and get together for an OpenTechnology exhibition in October.