OpenPlant Fund Information

Download Poster [PDF] | Info Sheet [PDF] | Download Application Form [.doc]


The OpenPlant Fund will support innovative, open and interdisciplinary projects relevant to plant synthetic biology and cell-free systems until 2019. Funded six-month projects will receive £4k each, with an additional £1k awarded on completion for follow-on and outreach. The next submission deadline for applications to the OpenPlant Fund will close on 8 July 2018.

The aim of the fund is to promote the development of plant synthetic biology and cell-free systems as interdisciplinary fields 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.

Training and Knowledge Exchange Theme

A wealth of tools, technologies and methodologies for plant Synthetic Biology have been developed through OpenPlant, the OpenPlant Fund, the Biomaker Challenge, and complementary efforts. In this call, we encourage applications for projects that will provide training or knowledge exchange to broaden the use of plant Synthetic Biology tools, especially exchange between the University of Cambridge, the John Innes Centre, and the Earlham Institute. Activities could include, but are not limited to:

  • Workshops and meetings

  • Hackathons for training and development

  • Exchange of researchers for knowledge exchange

  • Development of resources

Outcomes might include:

  • Meeting reports

  • Publication of protocols to

  • Further development and documentation of a technology

  • Publication of use of tool by a new user

Cell-Free Synthetic Biology

As well as plant synthetic biology, we encourage applications related to use of cell-free extracts from bacteria, plants, yeast or other organisms to transcribe and translate engineered DNA. Cell-free synthetic biology is gaining popularity for prototyping genetic circuits and metabolic pathways and has many applications from production of biologics to paper-based diagnostic tests and biosensors. Examples of challenges that could be tackled include but are not limited to:

  • Low-cost instrumentation for quantifying marker expression.

  • Improving substrates for 'paper-based' assays.

  • Developing lower-cost, more accessible cell extract production methods.

  • Methods for normalising results across multiple experiments and batches of extract.

  • Prototyping interesting genetic logic circuits or metabolic pathways.


Applicants should be graduate students or postdoctoral workers at the University of Cambridge, the John Innes Centre, The Earlham Institute and The Sainsbury Laboratory. They must have agreement from their research supervisor and cost-code sponsor that the proposed project and management of the allocated funding will fit with their existing work.

All proposals must lead to tangible, publicly documented and open outcomes, which could include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Design files for a hardware project

  • Software development and documentation

  • White paper arising from a workshop

  • Educational resource

  • Synthesis and sharing of useful DNA parts or vectors.

Applications for travel or event funding without justification of how this will lead to a tangible outcome or resource will not be considered. Salary or stipend costs will not be funded.

Judging Criteria

Judges will evaluate the proposals based on the application form and pitch presentation delivered on 23 July 2018, at the John Innes Centre, Norwich, as part of the OpenPlant Forum. The judges will give a higher priority to proposals which:

  • Are in the areas of plant or cell-free synthetic biology and provide a valuable contribution to the field.

  • Deliver training and knowledge exchange.

  • Promote exchange between Cambridge and Norwich OpenPlant partner institutes.

  • Have a tangible outcome that can be readily shared.

  • Promote interdisciplinary working.

  • Address focus areas of the OpenPlant initiative e.g. open technologies and responsible innovation.

  • Are realistic given the timing, costing and team proposed.

We encourage external collaborations and applications with matched funding: Additional credit will be given to applicants who have forged innovative partnerships with Cambridge or Norwich-based external partners and those who have agreements of matched funding for their projects.

Application Process Summer 2018

1.        Optionally attend mixer event at 6pm on Thursday 28 June at John Innes Centre, Norwich (We will arrange a car to take Cambridge participants to Norwich and back. Please contact if you would like to be included in these travel arrangements)

2.        Promote your project idea to recruit collaborators

3.        Submit application by 8 July.

4.        Present a 5min pitch to judging panel at OpenPlant Fund event on 23 July at the John Innes Centre, Norwich, as part of the OpenPlant Forum

5.        Up to 25 teams will be invited to the OpenPlant Fund event. Make sure a team member is available.

  • Max 4 slides, one slide on each of application form sections 2-5.

  • 5 min for questions

  • Timing will be strict!

Successful applicants will be informed soon after the OpenPlant Fund event and funds released as soon as possible.

Application Form

The next call for OpenPlant Fund applications will be in Spring 2019. Stay tuned!

Please ensure that you have read all of the associated eligibility criteria and information before submitting an application. There are no word limits on the application in order to keep the application process as lightweight as possible, but please be concise!

Please submit an application containing the following sections by email to in an editable format such as .odt or .docx (not PDF) and attach any images separately to the email.

What to expect from the OpenPlant Fund

Support in making your application

  • The OpenPlant Fund will run mixer events for all potential applicants, to facilitate team formation and generate new interdisciplinary links.

  • Lightning talk slots will give those with ideas the chance to recruit collaborators.

  • Members of the OpenPlant team will be on hand to answer questions and offer guidance.

  • Project descriptions can be shared via the OpenPlant newsletter to discover new collaborators.


  • £4k will be provided up front once your application is successful.

  • £1k will be awarded at the end of 6 months once your output is documented openly online, to enable follow-on and outreach.

On-going support during the projects

  • The OpenPlant Project Manager and Coordinator will be able to offer assistance and support in making the connections necessary for you to complete your project

  • Regular Cafe Synthetique and Makespace meetings are available in Cambridge with the primary aim of providing co-working space and networking opportunities. Website:

  • The Norwich Biomakers meetup provides an opportunity for interdisciplinary discussions and working in Norwich. Website:

Online infrastructure

  • Project proposals, progress and final outputs will be documented on Content should be emailed to

  • Advice will be available on openly licensing your output and the best way to make it shareable and useful to others.

What does OpenPlant expect from teams?

Transparency and monthly updates

  • We will post all accepted applications and presentation slides, as well as any reports online, with each project receiving a dedicated page.

  • Brief updates on progress via blog posts or the website are highly encouraged, we would expect some news every month through the 6 months of the project.

Involvement with broader Synthetic Biology activities and promoting interdisciplinary exchange.

  • There are plenty of events and activities happening to draw together the Synthetic Biology community in Cambridge and Norwich. We hope that OpenPlant Fund teams will be keen to engage with these.

  • You may be called upon to provide advice to other teams where your expertise are required. Although the funding round is competitive, implementation of the funded projects should be a collaborative effort!

 Open and publicly available outputs

  • We expect the output from your project and a brief report to be posted online at the end of 6 months.

  • This will be on the website provided by the OpenPlant Fund but you are of course welcome to additionally post elsewhere. This is particularly encouraged where there are repositories that are suited to your output e.g. DNA parts databases, software repositories.

  • Importantly, your outputs should be accessible and reuseable by anyone. This means that, where applicable, you need to think about open licensing, standard file formats and good documentation.