Shooting for the moon: SynbiCITE share industrial knowledge at GP-write

  • Posted on 22 May, 2017
The next step in understanding the blueprint for life

On May 9th and 10th, 2017, I joined around 250 other scientists, industry leaders, policy makers and ethicists at the New York Genome Center for the second meeting of GP-write. GP-write is an open, international collaboration that aims to reduce by 1,000-fold within 10 years the costs of engineering and testing large genomes in cell lines.

It’s an ambitious target, but GP-write hopes to follow the successful model of the Human Genome Project by having lofty goals. The HGP slashed the cost of sequencing genomes, created new technology and enabled the development of personalised medicine. GP-write likewise aims to bring teams together, spur technological development and advance our understanding of disease.

I gave a talk on how DNA foundries can automate the writing and assembly of large genomes, enabling molecular biology techniques to be used at industrial scale. The London DNA foundry is among the leading automation platforms for synthetic biology in the world, and we are in a strong position to aid the GP-write project.

My talk went well. An oft-repeated quote at the meeting was by Richard Feynman’s “What I cannot create, I do not understand.” We have an industrial scalable process at the London DNA Foundry. British science is among the best in the world, and we can drive research into building large genomes and understand their constituent parts. Several companies I met were extremely complementary about our problem-solving and know-how.

The first meeting of GP-write in May last year became controversial after it was reported as a supposed ‘invitation-only, closed-door meeting at Harvard University’ to create synthetic human genomes. The meeting and subsequent online publication of a commentary in Science were covered by 195 news outlets worldwide.

Over the last year, GP-write has learned hard lessons about dealing with the media. The Leadership Group are very clear that it is an open, worldwide research collaboration with many people involved, and all research is on cell lines – not human embryos. There was nothing ‘secret’ about the meeting - the first morning of talks was live streamed online.

My presentation was part of a panel discussion involving foundries from across the globe, and I was joined by great speakers from the Edinburgh Genome Foundry and Genome Foundry at New York University, among others.

It was great to see the efforts of teams around the world – from the US, Japan, China and Singapore - in putting together a synthetic yeast genome. There are lots of incredibly motivated people and tech developments in the pipeline and ready to automate. I have lots of enthusiasm for their future, once they become industrialised.

Dr David McClymont, Head of Automation, The London DNA Foundry