2nd Apr 2014

GARNet Chair Professor Jim Murray (University of Cardiff) launched the GARNet report Developing Plant Synthetic Biology in the UK: Opportunities and Recommendations yesterday during his talk at the PlantSci 2014 conference. The report summarises the results of discussions at GARNet’s 2013 workshop, An Introduction to Plant Synthetic Biology. It can be downloaded from the Reports page of the GARNet website. 

The UK plant science community has excellent research output and trusted community structures, including GARNet and the UK Plant Sciences Federation, so it is well placed to develop a world leading plant synthetic biology base. GARNet will work with dedicated synthetic biology initiatives, including the recently funded OpenPlant, to put into action the following recommendations:

  1. Enabling community sharing of biological parts. The community should work together to build a comprehensive biological parts registry to avoid duplication of effort, and to lower the financial and technical barriers to entry.
  2. Establishing an open source software repository. This should provide a directory of widely available online resources, with an associated user guide and relevant information.
  3. Inspiring a generation of plant synthetic biologists. This should build upon current UK capacity to provide relevant training to undergraduate students and early career researchers to ensure they have the knowledge and means to explore synthetic biology.
  4. Enabling training, partnerships and collaborations. Using new techniques is inherently risky, and synthetic biology tools often have to be custom-designed and synthesised at cost to the user. Training in specific techniques, and an associated network of expert users and collaborators, will enable researchers at all levels to use synthetic biology approaches confidently.
  5. Stakeholder mapping and public engagement. Commercial impact from plant synthetic biology will be limited if current EU regulations on GMOs do not change.
  6. Exploring licensing options. Intellectual property regulations are another limiting factor for commercial impact from synthetic biology. Start-up companies and small and medium enterprises struggle to access basic materials, such as transformation vectors, which are freely available to non-profit research institutions.
  7. Incentivising development of new tools and approaches. This will facilitate the uptake of synthetic biology by a wide range of users, helping to overcome barriers to the adoption and growth of plant synthetic biology and the manufacture of synthetic products in plants.