OpenPlant Fund

We have established a mini-funding scheme to support seed projects on a competitive basis, to provide small grants to promote a forum for open innovation and scientific exchange in the UK. Workers from participating OpenPlant institutions are invited to complete a short application form and to present their pitches at an open forum. A team of judges awards funds directly. This has created a forum for innovation in plant synthetic biology.

The OpenPlant Fund supports institutional exchange, interdisciplinary working and outreach. One or more of these aspects are required for a successful application. Projects receive £4000 over six months, with an additional £1000 for outreach or follow-on work after reporting on their progress. Funds are managed through a cost centre managed by a faculty sponsor, to help manage integration of the project with existing research loads. All outputs of the projects are open and shared. Parallel funding was provided by the Synthetic Biology strategic research initiative at the University of Cambridge. 

The Fund has proved to be a highly effective way of providing important support for independent small projects and promoting valuable new collaborations among young researchers, along with the development and documentation of open source biology,  hardware and bioinstrumentation. In short period of time, we have seen some notable outcomes. Example projects are:

Novel bioluminescent reporters & Synthesis of novel optimised lux reporters for eukaryotic systems: Bernardo Pollak and Anton Kan, SynBio SRI.

The team sequenced the genomes of 19 marine bioluminescent bacterial species from around the world. The genes responsible for bioluminescence were into plasmids for characterisation in E. coli and tested for bright light output. Directed evolution experiments were then used to improve the luciferase enzyme and lux operon as a new reporter system. These have been now adapted for higher organisms.

In addition, the team collaborated with the designer Victoria Geany to create bioluminescent living dress installations. The work was featured in Wired magazine. (

New tools for bioluminescence

Whiskeroscope: a rodent whisker inspired sensor for use in analysis of plant tissue structure: Jan Lyczakowski , Abhimanyu Singh & Christie Nel, OpenPlant.

The team developed a novel sensor to evaluate stiffness of plant stems. The device is inspired by rodent whiskers and relies on inputs, obtained using a thin steel whisker, to quantify stiffness. The instrument successfully discriminates between materials with varying mechanical properties such as differently aged stem samples from willow and Arabidopsis. (

Whiskeroscope prototype

Whiskeroscope prototype

Strengthening synthetic biology capacity in Kenya through bioinformatics training & Setting up an open synthetic biology lab in Abuja, Nigeria: Richard Smith-Unna, Dr Vicky Schneider, Dr Jelena Aleksic, Richard Pilling, Dr Chinyere Okoro, Dr Ibukun Akinrinade, Dr Jelena Aleksic, OpenPlant.

OpenPlant provided support for Synthetic Biology teaching and outreach for TReND bioinformatics and laboratory workshops in Kenya and Nigeria. 

OpenPlant sponsored TReND workshop in Nairobi

OpenPlant sponsored TReND workshop in Nairobi

Funded OpenPlant projects

July 2015

  1. Channeling targeted DNA double strand breaks into alternative repair pathways
  2. Engineering Marchantia polymorpha chloroplasts for the production of high-value specialized terpenes
  3. Open Pi-Image: A low cost-open source plant growth imaging and analysis platform
  4. Open Labware for plant electrophysiology
  5. Documentation Tool for Open Plant Technologies
  6. Whiskeroscope: rodent whisker inspired sensor for use in analysis of plant tissue structure.
  7. The use of synthetic biology tools to define the roles of LysM receptor-like kinases in legumes and cereals
  8. Developing novel selection markers for plant transformation to advance live-imaging techniques
  9. Quick analytical system for plastid genome modifications
  10. Wireless, portable, low cost, open source hardware for monitoring plant electrophysiology
  11. Strengthening synthetic biology capacity in Kenya through bioinformatics training
  12. Setting up an open synthetic biology lab in Abuja, Nigeria
  13. The Big Algal open Experiment
  14. Facilitating synthetic biology literature mining and searching for the plant community
  15. Responsible innovation and open innovation with large bioresources: goals, challenges and proposals
  16. Development of new codon optimization tools and development of a synthetic gene expression system in the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii

    January 2016
  17. Hot Tomato: Complementation of the Capsaicin Biosynthetic Pathway to Engineer Spicy Tomatoes
  18. Implementation of a synthetic transcriptional AND gate in the chloroplast of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii
  19. Advancing the ability to image single RNA molecules at the cellular level
  20. Establish a Procedure for Rapid Identification of Genetic Parts for Use in Algal Biotechnology
  21. A synthetic biology approach to investigating arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis in Marchantia paleacea
  22. Desktop plant experiment box
  23. Environmental sensor networks based on plant electrical signalling.
  24. Plant electro-mechanics
  25. Establishing 3D Printed Microfluidics for Molecular Biology Workflows
  26. Universal precise large area colony scanning stage with measurement and selection tool integration
  27. Development of an Open Source Autonomous Imaging Station for Distribution in High Schools, Universities, and Emerging DIY Scientific Communities.
  28. Co-lab OpenPlant - interdisciplinary workshops of science art and design
  29. ynthetic Biology for Schools: A multidisciplinary approach

    December 2016
  30. Plant-ProChip 2.0: High throughput transformation of plant protoplast
  31. Translating Nitrogen Use Efficiency from models to crops
  32. The Green Mother Machine Reloaded
  33. Development of a Low-Cost Micro-Environment Device for Root-Nutrient Interaction
  34. DNA-mediated fusion of spheroplasts with synthetic liposomes
  35. Ambient temperature preservation of cell-free TX-TL reagents for use in synthetic biology
  36. Developing teaching resources for rapid, open and combinatorial genetic circuit fabrication in cell-free systems.
  37. Accessible 3D Models of Molecules
  38. Light sheet microscopy of cell sheet folding in Volvox
  39. Developing Cell-Free Genetic Circuits and their Electronic Counterparts as Educational Tools for SynBio Students.

Funded SynBio SRI projects

March 2015

  1. Engineering of self­ cloning brewer’s yeast for novel terpene profiles in beer.  
  2. 3D printed microscope
  3. Interactive web­ based software for genetic circuit design
  4. Novel bioluminescent reporters
  5. DIY Biolab 
  6. Flexible, low cost, live­ cell imaging platform
  7. Faster engineering of cyanobacteria
  8. Finding new recombinases
  9. The Green Mother Machine: A microfluidics device for cyanobacteria

    November 2015
  10. SynBio Student Society
  11. SynBioHub: Patent information system for synthetic biology
  12. Synthesis of novel optimised lux reporters for eukaryotic systems
  13. CamOptimus: Self-contained user-friendly multi-parameter optimisation platform for non-specialist experimental biologists
  14. Reliable IP-free system for inter-chassis transfer of the high molecular weight DNA
  15. A piezoelectric bio-platform to image and stimulate cellular interactions
  16. Interactive web-based software tool for biological circuit design (Extension plan)
  17. Development of a microfluidic device for high-throughput analysis of genetic circuits in plant protoplasts.
  18. Bio-Hackathon
  19. Low cost solution for high throughput bacterial electrotransformation
  20. CELLUWIN: 3D printing for cellulose
  21. Organotypic cultures as tools for functional screening of drugs to promote oligodendrocyte differentiation and CNS myelination.

OpenPlant Fund summary (2016)