Cambridge website for Synthetic Biology resources

Compiled by Jim Haseloff at the University of Cambridge. SpannerPlantLogo140This site contains details of recent papers and activity in Synthetic Biology, with particular emphasis on: (i) development of standards in biology and DNA parts, (ii) microbial and (iii) plant systems, (iv) research and teaching in the field at the University of Cambridge, (v) hardware for scientific computing and instrumentation, (vi) tools for scientific productivity and collected miscellany.

Similar to the Cambridge-based Raspberry Pi and OpenLabTools initiatives, we promote the use of low cost and open source tools - in our case for use in biological engineering.

Google: Synthetic Biology news

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OpenPlant - major boost for synthetic biology

Plant scientists at Cambridge and Norwich have been awarded £12 million funding for a new UK synthetic biology centre – OpenPlant.

OpenPlant is a collaboration between the University of Cambridge and the John Innes Centre on Norwich Research Park. The funding will be shared equally between the two institutions. It is one of three new UK centres for synthetic biology announced today by science minister David Willetts. Over the next five years the three centres will receive more than £40 million in funding from the BBSRC and EPSRC.

Sitting at the boundary between sciences, synthetic biology uses engineering principles – including standardisation and modularisation – to make new biological parts and systems. Using knowledge about the biological properties of plants and microbes, synthetic biology can improve their use as factories, food and fuel. As well as helping improve crops across the world, synthetic biology could be used to develop new medicines, chemicals and green energy sources.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts, said: 'Synthetic biology is one of the most promising areas of modern science, which is why we have identified it as one of the eight great British technologies of the future. Synthetic biology has the potential to drive economic growth but still remains relatively untapped and these new centres will ensure that the UK is at the forefront when it comes to commercialising these new technologies.'

While US researchers are at the cutting edge of synthetic biology in microbes, the UK has the edge in plants. To fulfil its potential, however, researchers and small companies need greater freedom to operate, freedom that in key areas of computing has driven innovation, and created new jobs, software and products.

According to Dr Jim Haseloff of the Department of Plant Sciences: ‘The field needs a new two-tier system for intellectual property so that new tools including DNA components are freely shared, while investment in applications can be protected. This will enable greater participation in innovation for sustainable agriculture.’

Dr Nicola Patron, Head of Synthetic Biology at The Sainsbury Laboratory, another key partner organisation in Norwich, said: ‘Current intellectual property practices threaten to stifle innovation in plant technology. By creating DNA resources and tools that are free to use, OpenPlant will foster the kind of innovation seen at the emergence of other new technologies such as microelectronics and computer software.’

OpenPlant unites two leaders in the field. The University of Cambridge has played an important role in many key scientific discoveries in biology, from the structure of the double helix to next generation DNA sequencing. The John Innes Centre is a world-leader in plant and microbial research that benefits farmers, the environment, humans and economies worldwide. Scientific discoveries about synthetic DNA systems will feed future innovation by researchers at both institutions.

JIC scientists have also pioneered innovative engagement between scientists and the public such as through the Science, Art and Writing (SAW) initiative. Social scientists on the OpenPlant project will help map feasible technical approaches to challenges, such finding a less energy-intensive alternative to nitrogen fertilisers, considering the economic and social implications for different scenarios.

Inspired by the way open source data has stimulated innovation in computing, a new UK centre will create a climate of openness in synthetic biology, helping young researchers and entrepreneurs develop and share new tools and libraries of plant DNA.

By creating DNA resources and tools that are free to use, OpenPlant will foster the kind of innovation seen at the emergence of other new technologies such as microelectronics and computer software
Dr Nicola Patron
Gemma cups, specialised structures for propagation of Marchantia

The Average Length of Dissertations across Fields

How long is a doctoral dissertation? Too long—but some more than others.

Marcus W. Beck, a doctoral student in conservation biology at the University of Minnesota, decided to find out. No, he didn’t write a dissertation on the subject.* But he did a lot of number crunching using dissertations at his college library.

On average, the longest dissertations are in history at roughly 300 pages. The shortest are in biostatistics at about 100 pages. You can see a larger version of the chart here.

-via Marginal Revolution

*Though this would be an interesting topic for anyone pursuing a doctorate in library science.**

**Getting a doctorate in library science right now would probably be a bad idea.

Research news at Cambridge University

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European Association of Students & Postdocs in Synthetic Biology (EUSynBioS)

EUSynBioSprelimLogo240The European Association of Students & Postdocs in Synthetic Biology (EUSynBioS) invites you to join its pre-launch community. The EUSynBioS initiative seeks to shape and foster a network of young researchers active the nascent scientific discipline of synthetic biology within the European Union by means of providing an integrative central resource for interaction and professional development.

Key objectives of EUSynBioS include i) the implementation of a central web platform for sharing news and opportunities relevant to members of the community as well as for academic networking, ii) the arrangement and support of events for academic exchange and professional development, iii) liaison with representatives of industry, and iv) establishment of a primary contact for collaboration and exchange with related communities of synthetic biology students and postdocs abroad.

Registering as a member is free and can be completed within 30 seconds via the following link Students and postdocs who register as a EUSynBioS member will be able to:
o Access a large network of young researchers in synthetic biology for academic collaboration and exchange
o Share technical resources and teaching materials
o Stay informed about relevant events such as conferences, workshops, or social outings o Browse relevant jobs in academia and industry
o Use site visits and mentoring opportunities to interact with prospective employers
o Connect with members of related communities all over the world

By registering as a member prior to the official launch of EUSynBioS, you will not only make a statement of support which will have an impact on the resources available to the community in the future; you will also be given the chance to actively shape EUSynBioS right from the start, and have an edge when applying for a position on the Steering Committee. We are looking forward to your joining us ! Christian Boehm, University of Cambridge.