We believe that there is value in global sharing of open research tools, in order to encourage wider use and development of innovative applications, and promote global access to these new technologies, which are likely to be important for developing bioeconomies. We plan to maintain a programme of open curriculum development in this area to promote knowledge transfer.
OpenPlant: fundamental tools for plant synthetic biology
The plantCODE project has grown out of the OpenPlant initiative, which is a programme initiated by the University of Cambridge, John Innes Centre and the Earlham Institute, funded by the BBSRC and EPSRC as part of the UK Synthetic Biology for Growth programme.
Synthetic Biology offers the prospect of reprogrammed biological systems for improved and sustainable bioproduction. While early efforts in the field have been directed at microbes, the engineering of plant systems offers even greater potential benefits. Plants are already cultivated globally at low cost, harvested on the giga-tonne scale, and routinely used to produce the widest range of biostuffs, from fibres, wood, oils, sugar, fine chemicals, drugs to food.
There is an urgent need to improve our ability to reprogram crop metabolism and plant architecture in the face of global threats from new pathogens, climate change, soil degradation, restricted land use, salinity and drought. The next generation of DNA tools for "smart" breeding of crop systems should be shared - to promote global innovation and equitable access to sustainable bioeconomies.
OpenPlant aims to: (i) develop new tools and methods for plant synthetic biology, (ii) provide mechanisms for open sharing of standardised resources, (iii) apply these tools to world-leading projects in trait development, and (iv) facilitate interdisciplinary exchange, outreach and international development.
The initiative promotes interdisciplinary exchange, open technologies and responsible innovation for improvement of sustainable agriculture and conservation. More information about this initiative can be found at https://www.openplant.org
Standardised DNA parts and automated assembly
With wide support from the international plant science community, OpenPlant has established a common genetic syntax for exchange of DNA parts for plants, extensible to all eukaryotes (Patron et al. 2015). This common syntax for plant DNA parts is at the core of RFC 106, posted at OpenWetWare, and accepted as an official standard for DNA parts in the iGEM synthetic biology competition.
The Phytobrick standard is a consolidated and consistent standard for Type IIS restriction endonuclease based assembly of DNA parts to make synthetic genes. It is based on the widely used "Golden-Gate"-type standard, and allows highly efficient assembly of multiple standard parts into genes without the need to isolate DNA fragments. A range of existing techniques such as Gibson assembly, Mo Clo and Golden Braid can be used for higher order multiple-gene assemblies, however we have developed a simple and flexible protocol for assembly of plant vectors, the Loop Assembly technique.
OpenMTA: sharing DNA tools
The OpenMTA provides a legal framework for redistribution and commercial use of materials, while respecting rights of creators and promoting safe practices.It provides a new way to exchange materials commonly used in biological research and engineering, complementing existing, more restrictive arrangements. The OpenMTA also promotes access for researchers and individuals working in less privileged institutions and world regions. Read more details. An experienced international group of academic and industrial researchers, regulators and legal experts formed an OpenPlant IP Working Group and produced the report “Towards an Open Material Transfer Agreement” The report can be dowloaded at: https://www.openplant.org/reports/.
The drafting of the OpenMTA was led by Linda Kahl, part of a collaborative effort between OpenPlant and the BioBricks Foundation. The OpenMTA was launched with the publication of a commentary in Nature Biotechnology:
Opening options for material transfer. Linda Kahl, Jennifer Molloy, Nicola Patron, Colette Matthewman, Jim Haseloff, David Grewal, Richard Johnson & Drew Endy. Nature Biotechnology 36:923–927 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/nbt.4263
Biomaker: interdisciplinary exchange and international outreach
The Biomaker initiative funds small-scale projects at the intersection of the new biology and other sciences, in order to: (i) To encourage interdisciplinary and inter-institutional collaborations and promote wider exchange of skills and innovation. (ii) To generate open, low-cost tools and methods that can be used for training and technology transfer worldwide.
The field of Synthetic Biology has pioneered the adoption of standardised and modular approaches to reprogramming biological systems. We believe that the combination of commodity electronics and optics with cell-free biological systems will enable radically different approaches to the teaching of this "new biology", and will allow the development of a new generation of curriculum materials for project-based learning, that are both cheap and highly accessible for students who might otherwise be excluded from engaging with this topic. We believe that efforts like the Biomaker Challenge are needed to underpin interdisciplinary innovation that will be at the heart of the biology-based sustainable technologies of the coming century - and to facilitate and democratise global access to innovation in the bioeconomy.
More information about the programme and its projects can be found at: https://www.biomaker.org