Sunday, April 19, 2009

Roadmap for Synthetic Biology

The most pressing issue in Synthetic Biology is building the groundwork to eventually advance to large-scale commercialization. How can the field’s growth from fringe to core be accelerated? A strategic plan for the Synthetic Biology ecosystem addressing academic, commercial, geopolitical and policy issues would help.

Academically, how many new bioengineering departments per year could be added? Open source course materials are available. Undergraduate and graduate bioengineering program templates including financing guidance, an industry association, faculty databases and implementation mechanisms are needed. Current academic conferences and journals could be expanded to reflect industry growth. There could be regional hands-on workshops for different levels of trained professionals and interested high-school students, similar to Math Jamborees.

Regarding enabling tools, there is a need for research and development, access ease, standardization and scale-up. Existing tools such as the PartsRegistry, OpenWetWare and Gingko Bioworks need to be taken to the next level. Academic and corporate research programs and incubators could develop a strategic roadmap for tools. An IEEE committee could be devoted to Synthetic Biology.

Commercially, there could be specific programs to involve the financing community. Venture Capital-backed SynBio Incubators could be initiated with conferences, programs, technology transfer and onsite startup incubation. Non-academic conferences, marketing and outreach programs, contests, prizes and X Prize grand challenge competitions could reside at incubators.

Safety protocols for practitioners and public discourse is a critical area for the success of Synthetic Biology. Asilomar and the Geneva Conventions could be helpful analogs for policy development.

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