Call for abstracts for SynBio UK 2017

SynBio UK conference will showcase UK Synthetic Biology research and to create a focal point for the community, embracing its diversity and fostering its growth and engagement. Submit your abstract to the scientific programme now.

The UK is a world leader in science and engineering, and Synthetic Biology has been identified as an important area for our continued success. Key to that success is a cohesive, vibrant and multidisciplinary community, open to collaboration, open to advances, supportive of young talent, and driven to exceptional research with meaningful outcomes.

Synthetic Biology UK is a conference for the UK synthetic biology community and we look forward to seeing a good cohort from the Cambridge Synthetic Biology community attending!

SynBio UK 2017 is hosted by the Manchester SynBio Research Centre, SYNBIOCHEM, which specialises in synthetic biology for fine and speciality chemicals production.

Abstracts must be submitted by Monday 25 September 2017. Oral communication slots are available at this meeting. 


  • Anil Wipat (Newcastle University, United Kingdom)
  • Jason Chin (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, United Kingdom)
  • Jens Nielsen (Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden)
  • Luke Alphey (Pirbright, United Kingdom)
  • Perdita Barran (University of Manchester, United Kingdom

[Closes 14 July 2017] Postdoctoral Researcher - Single Cell Genomics

Job Vacancy: Postdoctoral Researcher to lead the development of next-gen sequencing tech to analyse single cells

The Macaulay Group at the Earlham Institute (formerly TGAC) is looking for an enthusiastic Postdoctoral Researcher to lead the development and implementation of next generation sequencing technologies to analyse single cells. This is an exciting opportunity to work on a BBSRC-funded project to explore transcriptional and epigenetic heterogeneity in individual haematopoietic stem and progenitor cells.

More details and application here

My OpenPlant Experience: Outreach, Engagement and 3D printing

Guest blog post by Roger Castells-Graells about his OpenPlant Fund project “Accessible 3D Models of Molecules”. Roger recently won a UEA Engagement Award in recognition of the work he has done both with OpenPlant and beyond.


PhD student Roger Castells-Graells in the lab

PhD student Roger Castells-Graells in the lab

My name is Roger and I am a PhD student in Prof. George Lomonossoff’s lab at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. My research project is about the production of virus-like particles to understand viral dynamics for future applications and to generate new bionanotechnological tools. I have a passion for science communication and public engagement and I have had numerous opportunities to communicate my science in Norwich, the UK and abroad since the start of my PhD.

My OpenPlant experience started in September 2016, when I attended a great Co-Lab workshop organized by the Open Science School and funded by an OpenPlant Fund. With this opportunity I had the chance to interact with scientists from different fields and also with designers and artists. It was an enriching experience and we developed a project called VRICKS (Virus Bricks) that aimed to generate tools to explain viruses in educational ways, like for example with paper models.

Following up from this workshop, in October 2016, I organized an activity for the Norwich Science Festival, together with Jenni Rant (The SAW Trust) and Colette Matthewman (OpenPlant), where we recreated the assembly of proteins into a virus protein coat using materials like paper and plastic, which represented the subunits of the virus. The public contributed to the assembly of a virus model, they learnt about related research from the Lomonossoff lab and they took home a build-at-home model. Over one hundred people participated in the activity during the weekend, making it a roaring success.

Presenting the virus activity and engaging with people at the Norwich Science Festival

Presenting the virus activity and engaging with people at the Norwich Science Festival

Following up with the interest to build tools to explain biological processes, such as virus assembly, I decided to apply for and OpenPlant Fund with the project “Accessible 3D Models of Molecules”. The project team is a multidisciplinary team (molecular biology, bioinformatics and engineering) of students from JIC and University of Cambridge and with this fund we are developing models of viruses and proteins using 3D printing technologies.

3D printed virus models for the OpenPlant Fund project

3D printed virus models for the OpenPlant Fund project

Recently I presented some of the virus models in a high school with students aged 12 to 16 years old. The students enjoyed being able to handle and compare representations of real virus structures and were amazed that some of these structures were only discovered this year. When the school teacher was asked about how the use of educational 3D models in the classroom could benefit the learning process he answered that first of all it creates excitement and focuses the attention of the students. It is something completely new! It contributes to the understanding of three-dimensional models and gives the students a better sense of the reality of the object. Furthermore, it allows the students to calculate scale as it is possible to touch, measure and compare different models.

I was invited to speak at the Pint of Science Festival in Norwich in May, and gave a talk entitled “20000 Leagues under the microscope: Viruses & Nanomachines”. At the event, I passed around several models of 3D printed viruses and the public loved having the opportunity to handle them. It was a great experience and we received really positive feedback. I want to thank the organizers of Pint of Science for such a great event!

As a result of all of these activities, I was recently awarded a UEA Engagement Award 2016/17 for contribution to Public & Community Engagement, which I am very proud of.

    Norwich Pint of Science Festival tweets



Norwich Pint of Science Festival tweets

Roger tweets2b.png

With thanks to my supervisor Prof. George Lomonossoff, OpenPlant and all the people that have helped, encouraged me and opened up opportunities in this last year.

[Closes 30 June 2017] Apply now for the OpenPlant Fund

The OpenPlant Fund is now open to proposals for innovative, open and interdisciplinary projects relevant to plant or in vitro Synthetic Biology. Projects run for six months and can include biological research, hardware prototyping, software, outreach and policy work.

Each project will receive up to £5k, with up to £4k up front and an additional £1k for follow-on and outreach after reporting. PhD students and postdocs are particularly encouraged to apply and external collaborators are welcome. 

The aim of the fund is to promote the development of plant Synthetic Biology as an interdisciplinary field and to facilitate exchange between the University of Cambridge, the John Innes Centre, and the Earlham Institute for the development of open technologies and responsible innovation in the context of Synthetic Biology.

More information can be found here:

Cell-free technology startup founded by former OpenPlant Fellow awarded funding by RebelBio.

Cell-Free Tech is a brand new start up company specialising in giving people the ability to do biological research, without the need for expensive tools and infrastructure. Based at the Microbiology Department of the University College Cork, Cell-free Tech is part of RebelBio, an accelerator programme that helps life sciences innovators, academics, biomakers and citizen scientists to change the world with biology.

Former OpenPlant Fellow Thomas Meany has helped found an exciting new startup company based on making cell-free technology more accessible. Meany founded the startup this year in collaboration with Ian McDermott (Chief Scientific Officer Cell-Free Tech), and together they have been awarded funding from the accelerator programme RebelBio and SOSV (a venture capital and investment management firm)to take cell-free technology out of the lab and into the world.

Originally a physicist by trade, Meany undertook a OpenPlant/Wellcome Trust ISSF Interdisciplinary Fellowship, co-supervised in the Haseloff and Hall groups (Department of Plant Sciences and Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology respectively), where he applied his computing and engineering skills to the field of synthetic biology. It was through his involvement in the SynBio SRI activities around cell-free systems, such as our recent workshop ‘Programmable biology in the test tube’, that he realised the potential of cell free systems to provide exciting and simple tools with which to do biological research.

In vitro or cell-free synthetic biology uses cell extracts rather than whole cells, programming them with DNA to produce chemicals or encode logic circuits that respond to their environment. The technology can be used to create vital biomolecules like insulin, or to generate stunning coloured, glow in the dark proteins. Since it doesn’t involve genetic engineering or extensive resources, cell-free technology can be used without the need for expensive facilities or infrastructure. Meany became increasingly fascinated by the concept: “I just loved the idea of doing biology anywhere, being able to make and create things with biology on a tabletop is fascinating.”

It was around this time Meany collaborated with SRI Steering Committee Member Helene Steiner (Royal College of Art and Microsoft Research Cambridge) on a series of cell-free workshops for the Royal College of Art (RCA) Biodesign Challenge,  aimed at making synthetic biology tools accessible to art and design students. It was through these events it became clear there was a great deal of interest in cell-free systems among the public. However, a recurring problem was that there was little scope for people to get involved, due to the lack of availability of affordable tools. Meany realised the potential for providing cheap, effective materials and after meeting Ian McDermott, a biochemist with experience in founding a business startup, they realised they think the same way. “Biology today is like computing in the late 1980s, simply awaiting an explosion of innovation. Technologies are developing faster than ever but some key platform technologies are still missing. People need to be able to access biology at an affordable price, in their own homes or workplaces and without enormous infrastructure” - explained Meany.

After communicating their vision to Bill Liao (Founder of RebelBio and SOSV investment partner) during a RebelBio conference, it was clear that their passion for cell-free technology was shared. Meany and McDermott left their University roles and with investment from RebelBio and SOSV, the team have set about producing the first publicly available low cost bio-prototyping kit at large scale, while directly reaching consumers through active market research. The kits will include a collection of 50 tubes containing individual cell-free extract alongside a set of plasmids that can be added to the extracts to produce colours, fluorescence and odours. Meany hopes universities, students, designers and makers or hobbyists from all backgrounds will be interested. “We are building the platform technology that will allow innovators from all backgrounds to engineer the materials of the future. Our hope is that the community will build on our initial projects to create and share amazing ideas of their own. We want to see biosensors, paper diagnostics and open-source insulin produced using our kits!” - Meany.

If you would like to contact Cell-free Tech to find out more or to get involved, please get in touch. They are eager to work with members of the Cambridge synthetic biology community. For more information on Cell-Free Tech, please click here.

If you are interested in learning more about cell-free technology, the SynBio SRI is currently running a series of events in this area, such as the OpenPlant Forum, OpenPlant Fund, and training workshops. For more information about these initiatives and upcoming events, please click here.

How an open approach to patents could help build a sustainable future

This article by Dr Lecturer in Technology and Innovation Management at the University of Cambridge was originally published at The Conversation on 15 May 2017, licensed under CC-BY-ND 4.0. See the original article here and in The Independent.

Dr Tietze is a co-convenor with the SynBio SRI and OpenPlant of an upcoming CRASSH Faculty Research Group on Open IP in emerging technologies.

File 20170510 21623 1y5wofm Nadezda Murmakova/Shutterstock

To sustain a population of 9.7 billion people by 2050 the world is going to need innovations that make careful use of the available resources, human and environmental. Key industry sectors such as energy, water, agriculture and transport are already under pressure to move to more sustainable methods of production and consumption. However, there are barriers in the way. The Conversation

One of these lies in how the world manages the creation and ownership of inventions and ideas. A protectionist approach to intellectual property is designed to protect and prolong the lifecycle of existing technologies, and allow innovators to capture the profits from their creations. In a paper published with colleagues from universities in Germany and India, we examined how this also makes it harder for new and more sustainable technologies to be developed and adopted. That explains why there are now other approaches being used to move key sectors to more sustainable systems and end this status quo.

Electric car manufacturer Tesla, has been doing just that. Tesla CEO Elon Musk “shocked” the world in 2014 when he announced that his company was joining the open source movement and giving away its patents for free.

It is important to understand the rationale here. Why would a company that had worked so hard to develop and protect its technology from its global car manufacturer competitors suddenly give its technology away for free?

Switching track

Tesla initially developed a patent portfolio to protect its technology. However, Tesla’s concern that it would be overwhelmed once established car makers ramped up their production of electric cars never came to pass.

Instead, it saw the electric car market stagnate at less than 1% of total vehicle sales. So Tesla changed its strategy from trying to prevent others from building electric cars to trying to encourage them into the market.

Part of the reasoning here is that if more electric cars are built, then more battery recharging stations will be built too. This would make electric cars become more visible, and a more conventional choice. Tesla believes that an open intellectual property strategy can strengthen rather than diminish its position by building the size of the electric car market, and as a result, build its own share of the total automotive market.

This kind of careful management of intellectual property at company level, supported by policy-level awareness, can be a powerful way to support the same kinds of transitions to more sustainable technologies in other industries too.

Power companies need to adapt. Chiu Ho-yang/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Energy supply faces an array of difficulties: the depletion of natural resources; air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions; nuclear risks; and security of supply. The water supply sector is restricted by water scarcity, pollutants, extreme environmental events such as flooding and costs associated with supplying water to communities in poor countries and remote communities. The agri-food sector, meanwhile, is under pressure to sustainably produce more food and to address malnutrition in poor countries.

For these industries to navigate a path around these problems, new knowledge and the innovations that follow will be essential. And in knowledge economies, intellectual property can either be an enabler or an inhibitor.

Taking the medicine

If the ownership of intellectual property is fragmented in an industry, it can slow down technology innovation and uptake, such as in the electronics industry where multiple players own complementary patents. However, firms can instead open up their innovation processes and move away from jealously guarded, internal cultures, where intellectual property is used to protect and prolong lifecycles. This change may see knowledge sharing that leads to accelerated innovation cycles and a more rapid uptake of sustainable alternatives throughout a sector: just what Tesla was hoping for in electric vehicles.

This approach to intellectual property, so-called “open IP”, is well advanced and mature in the software industry and healthcare. It has given access to life-saving medicines to millions of people, particularly in developing countries through patent pools, such as the Medicine Patent Pool. This kind of project relies on multinational pharmaceutical companies sharing their intellectual property, but small companies can also play a strategic roles in creating these new, more sustainable systems, and it’s not all about open IP.

Plumpy'Nut is handed out in Kenya. DFID /Flickr, CC BY

As progress in technology is cumulative, there will always be phases of “closed IP” for small companies to build up their portfolio. This can also be a strategy designed to make a social impact. Take Nutriset, which manufacturers food for famine relief. It protects both its invention, Plumpy’Nut, and its entire business model by patents. Plumpy’Nut is a peanut-based paste for the treatment of severe malnutrition and can be administered at home rather than through a supervised hospital treatment. As a result it can treat more patients.

Nutriset says that it uses patents to enable the development of local production plants for Plumpy’Nut and to protect those in emerging nations from being taken over by global manufacturing sites in more developed countries. The local production of Plumpy’Nut helps with creating skills and employment in the regions where Nutriset’s product is most needed.

An open approach to intellectual property has clear advantages in popularising and establishing new and widespread sustainable technologies, but there is a rationale in some cases for sticking to the more traditional approach. The trick now is to discover when and where different sectors and innovators deploy each strategy. The grand open IP gestures in the mould of Tesla can force through rapid structural advances; a small peanut paste supplier shows that patent protection can still help put the building blocks in place.

Frank Tietze, Lecturer in Technology and Innovation Management, University of Cambridge

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

[Closes 6 Jul 2017] DST-NRF Fellowships for UK Early Career Researchers - Synthetic Biology Opportunities in South Africa

This Newton Fund opportunity allows early career UK researchers to spend 3-6 months working with a South African research group.

The SynBio SRI has a network of researchers in South Africa with whom we can connect interested researchers and an invitation from Dr Karl Rumbold at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg for Fellows who might like to join lab and/or field-based projects including synthetic biology and biocatalysis.

Find out more about the call here >>

Contact us on if you are interested and would like help making connections in South Africa.

[Closes 21 June 2017] OpenPlant PDRA researching regulatory elements of cyanobacteria

Applications are invited for a Postdoctoral Research Associate position in Prof Christopher Howe's lab as part of the Cambridge OpenPlant Synthetic Biology Centre. OpenPlant is a joint initiative between the University of Cambridge, John Innes Centre, the Sainsbury Laboratory and the Earlham Institute, funded by BBSRC and EPSRC.

This position is aimed at identifying regulatory elements of cyanobacterial genes enabling control of gene expression in response to environmental electrical potential. Prof Howe's group has pioneered the development of 'biophotovoltaic' systems (McCormick et al. (2015) Energy & Environmental Science 8:1092) for the generation of electrical power from photosynthetic microorganisms. This post will analyse the transcriptional responses of cyanobacteria in biophotovoltaic devices.

Experience in the molecular biology of cyanobacteria, and in recombinant DNA techniques applied to microorganisms is essential. A PhD in a relevant subject is essential. Experience of electrochemistry is desirable, but not essential.

The appointee needs to be able to take up the post by 1 Sept 2017.

Fixed-term: The funds for this post are available for 24 months in the first instance.

For more information and to apply see the listing >>

[23 June 2017] Apply now for Biomaker Challenge!

Biomaker Challenge is a four-month programme challenging interdisciplinary teams to build low-cost sensors and instruments for biology. From colorimeters to microfluidics and beyond, we’re looking for frugal, open source and DIY approaches to biological experiments.

The challenge is open to students and staff at the University of Cambridge, John Innes Centre and the Earlham Institute. Participants will receive a Biomaker Toolkit and a discretionary budget for additional sensors, components, consumables and 3D-printing worth up to £1000.

For more information, to join a mixer event and to apply by 23 June 2017, see or email

Co-organised by: OpenPlant, Synthetic Biology SRI, CamBridgeSens.


Postdoctoral Research Fellow positions available at CSIRO

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is advertising several postdoctoral research fellow positions for recent PhD graduates, including in areas relevant to synthetic biology.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is the federal government agency for scientific research in Australia. Its chief role is to improve the economic and social performance of industry, for the benefit of the community. CSIRO works with leading organisations around the world, and CSIRO Publishing issues journals with the latest research by leading scientists on a broad range of subjects.

The postdoctoral research fellow positions advertised are to undertake independent research under the mentoring of more senior scientists within the framework of a personal development program. Positions are available across the entire spectrum of CSIRO research activity and are aimed at recent PhD graduates with little or no postgraduate experience.

The positions listed have several deadlines. In addition, more positions are likely to be advertised on their site in future.

For more information on the positions available, please click here.

The cutting edge of Synthetic Botany reviewed by OpenPlant researchers

Cambridge researchers including OpenPlant Director Prof Jim Haseloff  and OpenPlant PI Dr Nicola Patron (Earlham Institute) have reviewed the state of art and future prospects for Synthetic Botany - the application of synthetic biology to engineering nuclear and chloroplast genomes in plants.

Plants represent the only available platform allowing sustainable bioproduction at the gigatonne scale. Combining modular body plans and developmental plasticity with capacity for photosynthesis and extensive secondary metabolism, plants are highly attractive targets for genetic engineering. However, efforts in this area have been complicated by slow growth rates, physiological complexity, and technical challenges in the handling and manipulation of plants. Furthermore, better experimental and theoretical frameworks are needed to dissect and understand the hierarchies of genetic and physical interactions shaping their multicellular behavior.  

Joint first-authors Christian Boehm and Bernardo Pollak and colleagues reviewed the state of the art in genetic engineering of the nuclear and chloroplast genomes in plants, and highlight new approaches to harnessing their potential as custom agronomic systems for large-scale production. In particular, they show how simple plant models like the liverwort Marchantia polymorpha - combined with standard DNA parts and advanced quantitative imaging technqiues - can bridge the complexity gap between microbes and higher plants. Synthetic genetic circuits proven in Marchantia may serve as valuable tools for addressing some of the major challenges in plant metabolic engineering such as the introduction of C4 photosynthesis in C3 crops or the refactoring of nitrogen fixation pathways.

Boehm CR, Pollak B, Purswani N, Patron N & Haseloff J. (2017) Synthetic Biology. CSH Perspect Biol a023887o

[Closes 23 Apr 2017] Research & Outreach Manager at Warwick Integrative Synthetic Biology Centre

The Warwick Integrative Synthetic Biology Centre (WISB) is looking for a Research & Outreach Manager. This post will suit a candidate with a background in research who wishes to develop a career in research programme management, learning and/or applying skills in financial oversight, grant proposal writing, research communication and outreach activities. The closing date for applications is 23rd April 2017.

Details can be found on

[Closes 17 Apr 2017] Applications Scientist - Edinburgh Genome Foundry

[Closes 17-Apr-2017] Applications Scientist - Edinburgh Genome Foundry

We need a talented Application Scientist for the Edinburgh Genome Foundry (EGF), a facility for automated and high-throughput DNA assembly technologies based in the School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh.

Are you looking for a unique role working in one of today’s most exciting and rapidly developing areas of science? Are you keen to get involved with the rise of automation in the lab? Then this is the role for you.

As Application Scientist you will be the responsible biologist for translating and delivering customer orders for large-scale DNA assembly using our robotic platform.

Candidates must have a graduate degree in biology plus substantial experience in relevant work. Knowledge of synthetic biology and experience with automated equipment is essential. This is an exciting opportunity to play a fundamental role in the success of an exciting and technologically advanced UK facility.

Please note that the deadline for applications is being extended to late April.

Search for Job reference number: 039193 at

For further information contact Dr Hille Tekotte

Cambridge Science Festival Stand 2.0 – Improved Design!

A family discover how proteins are made following instructions in the DNA, with the help of Nadia Radzman and DNA Dave the robot.

A family discover how proteins are made following instructions in the DNA, with the help of Nadia Radzman and DNA Dave the robot.

In 2016 we designed a new stand for the Cambridge Science Festival and were delighted with the excellent feedback and the award won by the plant and life sciences marquee where our stand and team scored exceptionally highly with a 94.3% public approval rating! We decided to build on the game we had developed, using cardboard boxes, which explains the process of transcription and translation into something bigger and better (and more professional!). We applied for an Outreach Grant from the Biochemical Society to enable us to work with a designer to realise our ultimate game and were delighted to be successful! In December 2016 a group of enthusiastic scientists met with designer Molly Barrett to begin work. Scientists Ioannis Tamvakis and Nadia Radzman provided excellent ideas for representing the scientific process, and coding an arduino to build in the electronic outputs we wanted and then the build began and at the beginning of March we were introduced to DNA Dave, the robot! 

We were very excited to give Dave his debut at the 2017 Cambridge Science Festival and we were not disappointed! The public were really keen to see what the robot could do and the process of transcription and translation of DNA to proteins was very well explained by operating Dave’s buttons, cogs and switches. We will be taking Dave to future events and he is also available for hire! You can follow his travels on Twitter using #DNAdave.

The team celebrate the end of an excellent day.

The team celebrate the end of an excellent day.

Just add water: creating protein in a test tube with cell-free synthetic biology

Science Practice’s interest in synthetic biology goes back to the Arsenic Biosensor Collaboration, and recently we were back in Jim Haseloff’s lab to learn about a new development called cell-free synthetic biology. This technology made headlines when it was used to create a low-cost, paper-based diagnostic test for the Zika virus. We’re interested in paper-based diagnostics (see SoilCards) and portable technology that could enable lab analysis in the field, like the MinION. Because of our work in this area were we asked to co-convene a workshop called “Programmable biology in the test tube”, which was organised by Jenny Molloy from the Strategic Research Initiative for Synthetic Biology at Cambridge.

This is a guest post by Dr Tempest van Schaik from Science Practice. Follow her @Dr_Tempest!

Traditionally, synthetic biology has involved genetically engineering bacteria to do our bidding: producing a useful protein (for example a protein that is fluorescent) from a blueprint (DNA in the form of a plasmid). Cell-free synthetic biology means extracting the machinery that bacteria like E. coli use to produce protein from the DNA blue-print (the machinery for transcription and translation), and leaving the cell behind. There are numerous technical reasons why this is preferable, but the real-world consequences that we’re most excited about are that devices that use synthetic biology sensors 1) don’t need to be kept refrigerated, which means they can be transported long distances to reach rural places, and 2) are not restricted in use in the same way as whole genetically modified organisms.

Our day in Cambridge University’s Department of Plant Sciences included talks and a workshop. True to the open, collaborative, multi-disciplinary spirit of the OpenPlant initiative, there was a diverse group of attendees from the bio-hacking community, and even those in software engineering and economics.


Vincent Noireaux presents his cell-free synthetic biology work at the workshop: Programmable Biology in the Test Tube


Things you see in a plant lab. Department of Plant Sciences, Cambridge University.

The workshop was led by Vincent Noireaux (University of Minnesota), and hosted by Jim Haseloffand Fernan Federici. We worked from Vincent’s paper, “The All E.coli TX-TL Toolbox 2.0: A Platform for Cell-Free Synthetic Biology.


 FollowScience Practice @sciencepractice

Just add water...we're making GFP in a test tube! #cellfree#synbio @synbioSRI"


Each group of attendees was given a different cell-free gene-circuit to create. In the end we reviewed whether our gene-circuit was behaving correctly by using a microplate reader to look at the kinetics of expression of green fluorescent protein.


Kinetics of expression of green fluorescent protein produced by our gene-circuit


Groups gather round and discuss their results with Vincent.

It was easy to construct these gene-circuits on the lab bench, even for non-experts. We’re really excited to see a new generation of paper-based diagnostics that use cell-free synbio sensors. Thanks to Jim, Jenny, and Fernan for having us!

Keynote and Public Lecture: Possibilities for achieving food security in Africa by 2050


Mar 27, 2017

09:30 AM to 12:00 PM

Department of Plant Sciences, Cambridge University, Downing St, Cambridge CB2 3EA

JR Biotek Foundation, a charitable organisation founded by Carol Ibe, a PhD student at the Department of Plant Sciences (Uta Paszkowski's Lab) is pleased to co-organize a Molecular Laboratory Training Workshop for twenty Africa-based agricultural research scientists and academics. The workshop will take place at the Department of Plant Sciences from 27th March to 3rd April 2017.

On Monday, 27th March, the training workshop will begin with a keynote lecture delivered by Professor Sir David Baulcombe (Head, Department of Plant Sciences, Cambridge University). The title of his keynote lecture is "Future possibilities for plant biotechnology in Africa."

The keynote will be followed by four exciting short research talks titled;

"Unlocking new water sources for improving agricultural productivity and food security” - Professor Mark Tester, KAUST, Saudi Arabia

"Genetic mapping in rice and relevance to African agriculture” – Dr.
Adam Price, University of Aberdeen, UK

"The Push-Pull Platform for Overcoming Constraints to Increasing Small Holder Farmer Production“ – Professor John Pickett, Rothamsted Research, UK (

Everyone is welcome to attend. To book your place, please visit

Report on Synthetic biology start-ups in the UK and worldwide

On 2nd December 2016, Cambridge Consultants published a report prepared for the UK Synthetic Biology Leadership Council, on Synthetic biology start-ups in the UK and worldwide.

The report highlights that the UK has a vibrant SynBio start-up community, leading in Europe and second only to the US and that SynBio tools are the larfgest sector, including strain engineering, hardware and DNA synthesis.

The full report can be found here:

[Closes 21 April 2017] OpenPlant Research Associate in Prof. Alison Smith's lab, Cambridge University

Applications are invited for a Postdoctoral Research Associate position in Prof. Alison Smith's lab as part of the Cambridge OpenPlant Synthetic Biology Centre. OpenPlant is a joint initiative between the University of Cambridge, John Innes Centre, TSL and the Earlham Institute, funded by BBSRC and EPSRC, which promotes interdisciplinary exchange, open technologies and responsible innovation for sustainable agriculture and conservation.

This position is aimed at generating novel regulatory elements based on riboswitches for plant and algal biotechnology. Riboswitches are sequences within the mRNA that respond to metabolites or other small molecules to alter production of the encoded protein, and offer flexible and tuneable elements to control transgene expression.

You will join the multidisciplinary team in central Cambridge at the Department of Plant Sciences, where the group focuses on a range of algal molecular biology and biotechnology projects. The principal tasks will be:

i) To identify riboswitches from diverse organisms that have already been characterised and shown to regulate transgene expression in their native hosts. These RNA sensors will be used in the generation of new expression platforms that allow metabolite-inducible expression of transgenes. To meet this objective the design, construction and testing of the different elements of these expression platforms will follow synthetic biology principled approaches.

ii) To test the responsiveness of the different riboswitches for the control of transgene expression in different photosynthetic eukaryotic organisms (including microalgae and plants).

Experience in recombinant DNA techniques is essential. Knowledge of systems or synthetic biology is highly desirable, as is familiarity with microbiology, metabolic engineering, and/or metabolism. The successful candidate should have the capacity to communicate effectively, work as part of a team, and take a lead role in the design and execution of the research programme as required. In addition, the PDRA will be expected to be involved in supporting junior scientists in the laboratory. You should hold a PhD in a relevant subject.

  • Salary: £29,301-£38,183
  • Fixed-term: The funds for this post are available for 2 years, in the first instance.
  • Closing date: 21 April 2017
  • Download: Further details
  • You can apply online for this vacancy. You will need to register an account (if you have not already) and log in before completing the online application form.
  • Please upload your CV with publication list, and covering letter to support your application.
  • Please quote reference PD11744 on your application and in any correspondence about this vacancy.

The interviews are scheduled to be held in the week beginning 8 May 2017.

Please note if you have not received any news from us 1 month after the closing date you should consider that on this occasion your application has been unsuccessful.

The University values diversity and is committed to equality of opportunity.

The University has a responsibility to ensure that all employees are eligible to live and work in the UK.

How can we share solutions to complex systems problems across domains and application areas?

What do power networks, transportation hubs, weather patterns, commercial organisations and swarming robots have in common?

For those seeking to understand, manipulate or build these systems, their 'complex' nature often demands approaches going beyond reductionist scientific models or traditional engineering design methods. These complex systems are often considered to be intractable because of their unpredictability, non-linearity, interconnectivity, heterarchy and 'emergence'. Although in many cases these attributes are framed as a problem, there are also cases in which they can be exploited to encourage intelligent, robust, self-organising behaviours. 

To date, discourse on 'complexity' has tended to originate from the scientific domains taking a systems perspective, such as Systems Biology, Network Science and Complexity Science. This discourse emphasises the need for a more integrated, 'holistic' approach to understanding systems. Findings from these domains serve as the foundations for several emerging technologies and emerging disciplines, such as synthetic biology, socio-technical systems engineering, and swarm robotics. 

More broadly, engineers, designers, managers and policy-makers across all sectors need to be able to think in terms of complex systems to be able to address the problems that we are facing.

But what does it mean to describe systems as complex? How do these complex systems differ from the more easily understood ‘modular’ systems that we are familiar with? 

Vocabulary in this area is often dangerously inconsistent. For example, the terms 'emergence', 'complex', and 'complicated' are used differently by different disciplines, and often differently even within the same discipline. This makes it very difficult to understand whether people are really talking about the same thing, and whether the systems being described are different in superficial or profound ways. On the one hand, failing to identify the underlying similarities between systems (whether modular or complex) results in missed opportunities for sharing knowledge, best practices and methods. On the other hand, failing to identify the underlying differences between different systems results in practices and methods being misapplied

To address problems with translating between disciplines, Chih-Chun Chen and Nathan Crilly at the  Cambridge Engineering Design Centre have published ‘A primer on the design and science of complex systems’.This introduces complex system constructs by building them up from basic concepts, and contrasting them with more familiar constructs that are associated with modularity. For example, 'emergence' can be understood with respect to a breakdown in how a system’s functions are mapped to the structures that perform those functions. Abstract diagrams that are independent of any particular domain are used to represent the constructs that are discussed. These are illustrated with worked examples to make the explanations more accessible for those who have no experience with 'complexity'. The primer is intended to provide both an introduction to complex systems constructs for those new to the topics discussed, and also a basis for cross-domain translations for researchers and practitioners wishing to engage with other fields when addressing the systems problems they are working on.


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New Report release Webinar from National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (March 9th, 2017)

Preparing for Future Products of Biotechnology, a consensus report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, was released on Thursday, March 9, 2017.

View Release Presentation Slides Here

The report describes the new types of biotechnology products likely to emerge over the next 5-10 years and assesses whether future products could pose different types of risks relative to existing products. It also identifies the scientific capabilities, tools, and expertise needed to support the oversight of these products by the U.S. regulatory system.

The Webinar Recording Will Be Posted Soon

The report release briefing featured:

– Welcome and introductions

  • Bruce B. Darling, Executive Officer, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

– A presentation by the Chair of the report’s authoring committee

  • Dr. Richard M. Murray, Member of the National Academy of Engineering, Thomas E. and Doris Everhart Professor of Control and Dynamical Systems and Bioengineering, California Institute of Technology

– A Q&A session with study committee members

  • Dr. Richard M. Murray, Member of the National Academy of Engineering, Thomas E. and Doris Everhart Professor of Control and Dynamical Systems and Bioengineering, California Institute of Technology
  • Dr. Steven P. Bradbury, Professor of Environmental Toxicology, Iowa State University
  • Dr. Mary E. Maxon, Biosciences Area Principal Deputy, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory