Education, Innovation and outreach

Social acceptance remains a major potential limitation for the adoption of GM technologies, and our proposal will fund work on the wider implications of the technology at local and global scales. We will sponsor discussions in Cambridge on the potential impact of Synthetic Biology on sustainable practices in agriculture, bioproduction, land use and environmental conservation. This will bring together a wide range of engineers, scientists and policy developers to explore new technologies and possible models for implementation.

Open-tech projects

We have used mini-funding schemes to promote interdisciplinary meet-ups and build new scientific collaborations, events and workshops. This has resulted in a large number of open source projects. These projects are documented online.

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A group of researchers, scientists, engineers, technologists and curious minds working with the University of Cambridge Synthetic Biology Strategic Research Initiative (SynBio SRI) alongside other supporters from the local area to develop ‘Biomakespace’: an innovation space for biology and biological engineering. This effort builds on the success of Cambridge Makespace, a popular community workshop that caters for over 250 members, making engineering and manufacturing technologies accessible to a wide spectrum of innovators and enthusiasts to develop projects and ideas in an informal setting. Biomakespace complements this existing provision in the city with space for experimental biology and fabrication tools focused on scientific applications. The space aims to:

  • Bring together biologists, engineers, technologists and others for meeting and co-working in an informal and extra-institutional setting.
  • Support new and existing interdisciplinary collaborations.
  • Raise awareness of and skills for synthetic biology, one of the UK’s ‘eight great technologies’.
  • Build a cross-disciplinary and cross-sector community for synthetic biology in the city, with a focus on open technology and innovation.
  • Provide activities such as training and skills sharing sessions, networking events and foster links with innovation and seed funding schemes and local bioincubator spaces and accelerator programmes.

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SAW Trust

The science, art and writing (SAW) initiative breaks down traditional barriers between the arts and sciences. The SAW Trust provides training in project design to scientists working in collaboration with professional artists and writers who come together as teams to deliver projects themed on the scientists’ research topics. In schools, SAW programmes inspire creative artistic and scientific endeavour. Children realise that science and the arts are interconnected – and they discover new and exciting ways of looking at the world. SAW Trust works closely with OpenPlant researchers to explore themes of plants and biological engineering.

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Outreach activities:

Delivery of two summer schools on Plant Synthetic Biology and CRISPR Technology in Plants, co-sponsored by ERA-SynBio and Plant Methods/GarNET, respectively.         

Delivery of three Science, Art and Writing educational workshops, and two school outreach events.

Outreach in schools: OpenPlant exhibit on schools day and continuing in family area during Latitude Festival (July 2016). Exhibit at 2-day Cambridge Science Festival (March 2016). Exhibit at Youth STEMM Awards mid-year conference, John Innes Centre (January 2016). SAW workshops in primary schools with scientists from OpenPlant (March 2015, January 2016). SynBio workshop at Inside Science, event at John Innes Centre for Year 10 pupils interested in science careers (November 2015)

Funding of 16 mini-grants that incorporate broad interdisciplinarity and collaboration between Cambridge and Norwich - including hardware, wetware development and support for collaboration between OpenPlant and African scientists.

Workshops on ethics and openness run at OpenPlant (March, 2016), outreach with the SAW trust (March, 2016), and BBSRC Media Training for OpenPlant (March 2016).

Support for a Synbio Beta Activate event in Cambridge, to promote entrepreneurial interactions.

Responsible Innovation

The social acceptance of genetic modification in field­grown crop plants remains a significant barrier to the adoption of plant synthetic biology in the UK. OpenPlant research, public engagement and outreach efforts promote (i) models for decentralised ownership and control of key technologies, (ii) use of  cis­genics and precision gene editing technologies, (iii) development of new crop traits with improved properties, sustainable production, resource management and environmental impact, and (iv) aid international development and technical exchange for agriculture and sustainable land use.

OpenPlant has organised, sponsored and contributed to international workshops on Intellectual Property, Materials Transfer and Innovation; Responsible Innovation workshop (Kathy Liddell, Law Faculty, Cambridge); IP workshop; Nagoya protocol workshop; Large BioResources; Open Technology for Biology workshop, Chile, and OpenTechnology Week events in Cambridge, including Technology for the Bottom Billion workshop and Makethon, coordinated with the Centre for Global Equality (

OpenPlant contributes to the Virtual Institute of Research and Innovation (VIRI), and partnered joint workshops with Co-Lab.

OpenPlant continues to collaborate with Linda Kahl, Biobricks Foundation, and an international IP working group to implement an Open Materials Transfer Agreement with the aim of improving freedom-to-operate by enabling international exchange of DNA parts. OpenPlant participated in the inaugural meeting of BioNet group at Asilomar and supports the development of an open technology platform for peer-to-peer exchange and provenance tracking of biomaterials

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