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Unlocking the full potential of Microbial Synthetic Biology: an engineering discipline coming of age

Background. Microbial Synthetic Biology (MSB) is an emergent interdisciplinary area combining disciplines such as microbiology,

biotechnology, genetic engineering, molecular biology, molecular engineering, systems biology, protein engineering, membrane

science, biophysics and computer engineering. MSB applies these disciplines to engineer biological systems and microorganisms in

view of improving industrial, environmental, diagnostic and therapeutic applications or biological research. Traditionally two

different approaches are riving MSB: a top-down approach and a bottom-up approach. In the former approach metabolic and

genetic engineering techniques are applied to extensively rewire the cell metabolism, while the latter approach creates new

biological systems in vitro by bringing together 'non-living' biomolecular components. Although recent progress in SB, such as the

falling cost of reading and writing synthetic DNA, improved methods for DNA assembly and advances in dynamic pathway control,

empowers bioengineers to explore SB for the engineering of parts, or the whole, of microorganisms, MSB is yet only modestly or not

efficiently exploited. To truly unlock the full potential of MSB, efforts should be undertaken to bridge the divide between these

approaches and to synergistically combine both approaches enabling MSB to become a mature discipline with novel tools and

platforms making way for applications and research that were not possible hitherto.

Scientific targets. The initiative that we launch here will tackle this issue by establishing an integrative, inter-, multi- and

transdisciplinary research network with a strong momentum for a sustained engagement beyond the lifetime of the project by

connecting the relevant expertise and stakeholders to chart the different approaches, methods and technologies in MSB and to

realize its full potential. This will be materialized through the establishment of a consortium that regularly meets, acts as consortium

in project applications, shares post-docs and PhD/master students, organize joined seminars, workshops, etc.

Consolidatory, the objectives of this initiative can be summarized by:

§ Create a bridging link between the different groups in Flanders active in MSB and bringing in complementary expertise from

international research groups to create an integrative, multidisciplinary and innovative research pipeline and thereby

maximally valorize MSB activities in Belgium.

§ Complement current (inter)national initiatives which only touch one or maximum a few aspects in MSB such as the Hercules

grant which focus on automatization in molecular biology and screening of biological parts (FWO I011118N) or the BioRoBooST

consortium on “tandardization in synthetic biology”(H2020 GA 820699), by truly bringing together both approaches fostering

their synergistic effect to boost MSB research and unlock its potential in various application fields.

More specifically we will:

§ Establish a road map that outlines the research and societal challenges in MSB in general and specifically in joining the bottomup

and top-down approaches and defines a systematic way to solve them within the international context by (1) organizing

meetings and workshops related to the different aspects covering MSB bringing together complementary expertise in SB,

policy makers, industry and other stakeholders, (2) establishing collaborative research efforts that require an international

dimension for accomplishment or can leverage efforts made in Flanders (e.g. by promoting exchange programs, apply for EUH2020

funding, etc.), (3) publish white papers and opinion papers on future challenges in the field including the view of all

stakeholders (academy, industry and society) to fully valorize MSB applications and (4) to reach out to the general public and

promote the potential of MSB in order to overcome public hesitation to embrace new developments (e.g. participation to

international prestigious competitions such as iGEM and Biodesign Challenge)

§ Improve knowledge and technology exchange in the diverse fields related in MSB, especially there were the both approaches

(bottom-up and top-down) meet by (1) setting up a virtual platform for the mutual exchange of expertise, methodologies,

tools, software, devices and parts in the diverse fields related to MSB, (2) contribute to complimentary efforts in MSB and SB

in general e.g. by contributing to the BioRoBooST project which promote synthetic biology standardization, and (3) provide

training sessions and workshops for junior postdocs to enhance knowledge and technology dissemination.

Date:1 Jan 2019  →  Today
Keywords:microbiology, synthetic biology, Biotechnology
Disciplines:Microbiology not elsewhere classified, Synthetic biology, Other biotechnology, bio-engineering and biosystem engineering not elsewhere classified