The EUSynBio Symposium 2016

Josi Buerger attended the EUSynBio Symposium in London last weekend. Here is a personal account of the conference and why you should go next year…

The first Symposium of the European Association of Students and Post-docs in Synthetic Biology (EUSynBioS) advertised itself as an “open, funky, and slightly unconventional synbio event”.  I’ve been involved with parts of the EUSynBioS community before so I decided to attend the 1.5 day conference.

The symposium was held at Imperial College last Saturday, the 9th of April and included a visit to the London Hackspace the next day. The morning session was kicked off with an inspiring talk by Dr Tom Knight on the future of synthetic biology and the importaeusynbio symponce of in silico approaches. This was followed by students and early-stage researchers presenting their research. SynBio is of course about building tools for any application, so the presentation topics ranged from rhodopsin engineering in E. coli  to changing the lifestyle of Pseudomonas. Overall the atmosphere was very pleasant – never one to hold back in the question section myself, some great discussions took place.

Coffee breaks allowed for networking with other attendees. For example, I learned about the Cambridge Hackathon happening early this summer and even talked with industrial designers who were interested in this new field of engineering.

The Breakout Sessions after lunch were a personal highlight of the day. These were smaller discussion groups led by professionals who were active in science but not necessarily in research. For example, Michele Garfinkel works at EMBO to support young researchers and collaborate with policy makers in the Brussels to shape the future of regulation in genetic engineering. And Prof. Kate Jones from UCL led a discussion on de-extinction with an interesting premise: Given that there are researchers attempting to bring back extinct species such as the wooly mammoth or the passenger pigeon regardless of ethical concern, how can the synbio community ensure it is done as safely as possible?

The afternoon sessions focused on biotechnology and business. Two founders, Emily Leproust of Twist Biosciences and Luke Alphey of Oxitec talked about their very differing motivations to start a company.

emily leproust

Emily Proust talking about the beginning of her start-up, Twist Biosciences. Photo by @CR_Boehm.

The Symposium was rounded off by a panel discussion on gene drives with a focus on eradication of malaria and dengue fever using modified mosquitos. This topic was particularly interesting because it touched on not only research but also pressing issues of policy and overseas application of technology. Not everyone agreed on who should be making decisions around GM and a fascinating discussion ensued.

Finally, a low-key social in the evening gave everyone a chance to exchange contact details and say our goodbyes: until next year! And thank you to the EuSYnBioS Committee for organising such a great event.


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