OpenPlant laboratories for open innovation, training and exchange in plant synthetic biology have been opened in Cambridge and at the JIC/TSL-Norwich. The centres provide facilities to promote interdisciplinary training and research in plant synthetic biology including core laboratories, access to instrumentation for robotics, automated measurements, microscopic visualisation, high performance computing and the necessary infrastructure for experimental work and administrative support.
Cambridge OpenPlant Centre
Cambridge OpenPlant Centre has been established in the Department of Plant Sciences. This space was previously a teaching laboratory and has been used for interdisciplinary training in Synthetic Biology through the iGEM competition since 2005.
Facilities are under development and the centre will soon house a range of analytical equipment including quantitative cytometers, microscopes, microplate readers and liquid handling robots.
Norwich OpenPlant Centre
The JIC/TSL OpenPlant centre at Norwich is housed in the Chris Lamb Training Suite, a purpose-training facility, that can accommodate up to 30 people and provides integrated training in multidisciplinary biology through a wet laboratory, IT suite/lecture theatre, and the adjoining Blue Sky meeting room facilities. It provides a base for EMBO workshops on Multi-level Modelling of Morphogenesis and Plant-Microbe Interactions and the JIC/TSL Undergraduate Research Studentship programme.The JIC-TSL OpenPlant centre will provide core facilities for training and access to specialised equipment for metabolic profiling and whole plant analysis.
A meetup group called “Researchers related to OpenPlant in Cambridge” (ROC) has been established in Cambridge. This group holds monthly meetups to discuss sharing of information and resources. Information is shared through a Slack discussion group for researchers who are not able to attend the meetings. PDRA led meetings are organised to bring together Norwich and Cambridge researchers and expand ongoing discussions. As a result of these discussions, a resource for protocol exchange has been established at protocols.io, and an OpenPlant Benchling account has been setup to collect DNA part information prior to public release.
Each year, in the last week of July, we organise the OpenPlant Forum. The OpenPlant Forum brings together OpenPlant and international speakers to explore the potential applications of reprogrammed biological systems, and a framework for exploring the wider implications of these potentially disruptive new technologies. Each year, an overarching theme is chosen, and we aim to cover the strategic, technical, and social implications of this topic. Topics include Reprogramming Agriculture and Frugal and Fast Biotech.
Website: (OpenPlant Forum)
Students and researchers from different disciplines and different institutes are able to arrange easy access to modern equipment and resources, to pursue joint projects. For example, researchers from fields of physics and engineering will have direct access to lab space for joint projects with genetically engineered plants and microbes. Further, the centres provide a space for training programmes in multidisciplinary approaches to engineering in biology and workshops for using synthetic biology tools in plant systems. We are expanding interdisciplinary programmes for undergraduate recruitment, iGEM (in Cambridge and Norwich) and developing programmes for construction of open source bioinstrumentation. These initiatives have proved to be an excellent way of initiating interdisciplinary collaborations, training and cross fertilisation of ideas, and we are keen to expand this across the two institutes.
The OpenPlant Fund was established to support seed projects on a competitive basis through the annual distribution of up to twenty small-scale grants following a lightweight application process and public pitching event. 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 Earlham Institute for the development of open technologies and responsible innovation in the context of Synthetic Biology. The OpenPlant Fund follows the prototype SRI Fund and the programmes have created over 60 open source projects for synthetic biology.
Website: (OpenPlant Fund)