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 until 2019. Funded six-month projects will receive £4k each, with an additional £1k awarded on completion for follow-on and outreach. The first round of applications for 2017 will close on 30 June.

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, The Earlham Institute and The Sainsbury Laboratory for the development of open technologies and responsible innovation in the context of Synthetic Biology.

Cell-Free Synthetic Biology Theme

This call is also encouraging 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 24 July 2017 in Cambridge. They will give a higher priority to proposals which:

  • Are in the area of cell-free systems
  • Have a tangible outcome that can be readily shared. 
  • Promote interdisciplinary working and exchange.
  • Promote exchange between Cambridge and Norwich OpenPlant partner institutes.
  • Are relevant to synthetic biology and provide a valuable contribution to the current field.
  • 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 2017

1.        Optionally attend launch event and mixers on:

  • Sat 6 May: Science Makers at Cambridge Makespace
  • Tue 6 Jun: Norwich launch and mixer, Earlham Institute Jane Rogers Seminar Room 3pm - 4.30pm
  • Wed 14 Jun: Biomaker Challenge Mixer at Postdoc Centre on Mill Lane (TBC)
  • Sat 3 - Sun 4 Jun: Biomake-a-thon at Cambridge Makespace

2.        Promote your project idea to recruit collaborators

3.        Submit completed application form by 30 June.

4.        Present a 5 min pitch to judging panel at OpenPlant Fund event in Cambridge on 24 July.

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

Application Deadline: Midnight on 30 June 2017

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!

All applicants are expected to attend an OpenPlant Fund event in Cambridge on 24 July to pitch their idea to a judging panel. Please make sure a team member is available for this date. We will confirm your invitation to pitch as soon as possible once we know the number of applications submitted.

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.

Title of Project

Primary contact for the team

Include name, department, organisation and email address


Please include the names and email addresses of all team members, include their department/organisation and briefly (1-2 sentences) what they will contribute to the project.


Briefly summarise your proposal


Describe what you are planning to do with the funding, including aims, methods, outcomes and who will be involved

Benefits and outcomes

Describe how your project fits the remit of OpenPlant and the judging criteria, including details of any new interdisciplinary interactions between Cambridge and Norwich.

Sponsor for the research and cost centre

Include name, institution, department and email address of the individual who will support the project and sponsor the cost-code to which you want funds to be allocated. This would generally be a research supervisor. Make sure you get permission from the sponsor and include the following text in your application:

I confirm that I have the full support of the sponsor listed above and that they can be added to the OpenPlant Fund mailing list to receive project updates (to which they can unsubscribe at any time).


Provide costings for your proposal (up to £4000) and indicate if you have access to any additional funding to meet your aims.

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:
  • All teams will be added to the OpenPlant Fund directory.

Online infrastructure

  • We will provide you with a website on which to document your progress and post outputs at the end of the project.
  • 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 online, with each project receiving a dedicated page to which team members can post content.
  • 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.