Event Report: Synthetic Biology for Bioindustrial and Biomedical Applications Conference
On May 24th, 2019, Synthetic Biology researchers and enthusiasts and industry supporters gathered at the University of Alberta for a day of engaging scientific talks and discussions as part of the Synthetic Biology for Bioindustrial and Biomedical Applications Conference.
The day began with Dr. Stuart from the University of Alberta Department of Biochemistry giving an introductory address to the attendees. The presentation covered the history of Synthetic Biology research and also the utilities of synthetic biology approaches to solving various pressing problems in our world today. The excitement about the various applications of Synthetic Biology continued as researchers presented the novel research that was taking place in their labs.
Dr. Vikramaditya Yadav from the University of British Columbia Chemical and Biological Engineering introduced the many projects in his lab. Dr. Yadav’s research group - the BioFoundry - utilizes metabolic and enzyme engineering to investigate and customize novel biosynthetic enzymes that can convert biomass-derived feedstock into better fuels, pharmaceutical, and value-added chemicals. The group extends these principles to design and develop unique bioremediation strategies. In addition, the BioFoundry also pursues medical biotechnology research such as drug discovery, delivery, and tissue engineering using synthetic biology.
Dr. Ratimir Derda went on to share the exciting research for accelerated discovery of functional molecules using genetically-encoded libraries of chemicals. In these libraries, every chemical is linked to a bacteriophage that carries a unique tag. Similar approaches enabled the rapid discovery of molecules, which can be turned “on” and “off” using light irradiation. These unique molecular tools will be sued to study the fundamental question in cell growth and differentiation, and asymmetric cell division of cancer stem cells. This research has tremendous translational implications as they facilitate the development of portable platforms for detection of diseases in the developing world and paper-based platforms for organic synthesis and biomolecular screening.
Many exciting projects were presented by more researchers at the University of Alberta. The development of the next generation of therapeutic poxvirus vectors was discussed by Dr. Ryan Noyce. His exploration of the power of synthetic biology to engineer viral genomes not only provided insight into the roles of specific viral genes but also has the potential for the development of novel tools for vaccine research. Dr. Bonnie McNeil’s research on the application of synthetic biology to engineer yeast metabolic pathways for the synthesis of fatty alcohol and oleochemicals also presented the important applications of synthetic biology for bio-industrial purposes. Brianna Greenwood, another PhD candidate in Biochemistry also had an interest in metabolic pathway engineering of yeast for maximizing the production of unsaturated fatty alcohols. Non-conventional yeasts such as Pseudozyma Antarctica were introduced by Yuze Xu, a PhD candidate. Yuze’s project focuses on the production of glycolipid surfactants. These Synthetic Biology projects all held promise for real-world applications. To further demonstrate the impact of Synthetic Biology on bio-industry and biomedical applications, Amy Chen, the iGEM Ambassador for North America, shared the story of iGEM and After iGEM with the crowd.
Amy discussed the history of iGEM and shared many stories of outgrowths from iGEM during her presentation. The outgrowths of iGEM mentioned in the talk include successful companies such as Ginkgo Bioworks, FREDsense Technologies, Colorifix, and PvP Biologics. These iGEM startups were all prime examples of the applications for Synthetic Biology. The presentation then led to a discussion of the supports needed to generate more innovation and foster the maturation of more iGEM projects. Furthermore, principal investigators such as Dr. Yadav expressed his appreciation for iGEM when he commented on the can-do attitude that it creates in students and the brilliant young minds that come out of the competition. It was exciting to see so much interest in Synthetic Biology and iGEM at the event and we look forward to the next iteration of the Synthetic Biology for Bio-industrial and Biomedical Application Conference in Alberta!