In June 2019, the national and international SynBio community came together for SynbiTECH 2019 with the key focus on minimising environmental impacts.

Recapping SynbiTECH 2019:Evolve, Enable, Expand

The end of June 2019 saw the national and international Synthetic Biology community, and those interested in the topic, come together in London to discuss and showcase their work and technologies at SynbiTECH2019. Nearly 400 attendees took the opportunity to listen to 76 speakers and engage with 29 exhibitors and sponsors. The 2-day event, organised by SynBiCite, showcased an overview of the latest developments by providing great examples of how synbio is the technology to solve present day challenges. The key focus throughout the conference was on minimising environmental impact.

The conference kicked off with an impressive keynote speech from Jason Kelly, CEO of Ginko Bioworks. The US based company is a great example of what synbio has to offer and the cross-sector opportunities it provides. Jason highlighted some projects of interest, namely nitrogen fixation for crops in agritech; lab grown meat for the food industry and discovery of new antibiotics for the pharmaceutical sector.

The biotechnology-design hub, Open cell, organised the exhibition ‘Biodesign Here Now’ focusing on sustainability and featuring selected projects which showed cutting edge examples of what’s achievable when you combine biology with design and technology. Ever thought of wearing bacterial cellulose trainers? Sunglasses made from potato peelings or a shirt dyed by bacteria, thus saving water and avoiding use of toxic chemicals? The opportunities are endless.

The diversity of the areas where synbio is applied featured throughout the conference: SMEs and start-ups innovating to simplify and advance the synbio process with robots as your lab mates, automation, open access and fast and reliable high-throughput DNA synthesis; as well as companies who aim to solve the analytical bottleneck created by our capability to generate 1000s of constructs and production strains within weeks.

Dana Heldt, KTM – Synthetic Biology, recounts her experience and key takeways from the 2-day event:
“We heard talks from companies addressing environmental impact by minimising carbon footprint through the production of sustainable protein, animal free food alternatives and clean meat. Other entrepreneurs discussed technologies on waste water treatment and removal of micro pollutants; artificial leaves to capture carbon dioxide and clean the air; or using synbio approaches in designing biocontrols to improve crop yields. Also, great to hear companies addressing the environmental impact they are having on the fast turn-around delivery of ordered DNA samples through the use of hybrid courier vehicles and glove recycling programs.”

For me, another impressive talk was given by Claire Bergkamp from Stella McCartney. With only 1% of clothing getting recycled, the fashion industry is creating a lot of waste. They are addressing the role they play through the use of new, low impact, sustainable materials such as organic cotton or microsilk, minimising the impact on soil health.

The two days clearly showed that synbio can provide solutions to challenges in health and pharma, the growing population and climate change, if we allow it. More importantly, there were panel discussions addressing the need for the right policy and regulatory framework. It is important to keep the discussions going, address the concerns and highlight the advantages society will gain.

Of course, innovation needs investment and it was good to see representatives from the UK government and potential investors engaged in discussions with industry. One of comments that stuck with me came from Herman Hauser, Co-founder and Venture Partner at Amadeus Capital Partners: “We (the UK), don’t have a start-up problem, but a scale up problem.” As a Synbio hotspot, the UK sits in second place behind the US. However, to keep our position we need more long-term investment, from both public and private funding.

SynbiTECH2019 provided an excellent opportunity to engage with the UK and international synbio community, and a short article isn’t enough to highlight all the exciting science being carried out in our country. The UK has always been at the forefront of synbio development and the international community look to us to learn. It was good to see that a governmental delegation from Kenya attended SynbiTECH to share their challenges and to use the opportunity to connect with stakeholders from around the world. You can read more about 10-year synbio developments in the UK.

Prof Dick Kitney, Prof Paul Freemont and Dr John Collins confirmed SynbiTECH will return in 2020. Dr Collins said, “SynbiTECH 2019 is the first in a series of Europe-focused synthetic biology business conferences with a technology showcase and art of synthetic biology exhibition. This year’s had substantial attendance at more than 400 attendees from around the world, 70+ speakers who have given us excellent and enthusiastic feedback. SynbiTECH 2020 will be on 6-7th July at the same venue – the QEII Centre, Westminster, London. We look forward to seeing an even larger audience, more exhibitors and a packed, high-profile programme of talks and events.”

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