If you crack open a TV, your laptop or your phone, you’ll see that their parts look very similar: resistances, capacitors, transistors… You could take some of these parts, use them in another device, and they would work! Although it seems natural now, this standardisation was everything but spontaneous. It took (and still takes) a lot of planning and hard work. But it certainly pays off: it reduced manufacturing costs, made the technology safer, and boosted the innovation across the field. As synthetic biology aspires to become a technology as ubiquitous as modern electronics, standards have become a major challenge. Today, we want to talk about a fellow European project that is focused on the topic: Bioroboost.
This three-year project aims to sift through the synbio toolbox, take stock of the situation and generate the most comprehensive collection of information on the field’s standards. To do that, it mobilises multiple stakeholders: researchers, industry representatives, policy makers, end-users… The goal is to classify the tools at hand, so they are accessible for everyone that want to use them. Because standards are more than selecting a set of sequences of DNA that are useful. For synbio to grow, many different aspects have to be standardised: processes like cloning methods; whole organisms like the biological organisms that serve as the foundational stone of research projects; even languages such as SBOL have to be completed in order to design genetic constructs and biological systems.
Bioroboost focuses on three concrete aspects. First, the consortium is looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the field. Identifying gaps of the standardization process is key to proposing solutions that build over the existing work, instead of rebuilding parts that already work. Second, the microbes used. While E. Coli is the favourite organism for hosting synthetic constructs so far, it is not the only one, nor the best option for every project. Thus, Bioroboost will firmly establish a standard collection of bacterial chassis that can be used for a wide range of biotechnological applications. The consortium is also going beyond bacterial hosts, to explore and evaluate two non-bacterial hosts: the yeast S. Cerevisiae and Chinese hamster ovary cells (CHO cells), widely used in in the production of therapeutic proteins.
All this work is performed by 25 partners: Universities, research Centres, companies… By involving as many stakeholders as possible, the project is trying to ensure that the standardisation process is fair. Because standards are not neutral choices. They are guided by many different motivations. There are examples in other fields: from the “war of the currents”, between Edison and Westinghouse in the late 1880s, to the more recent clash between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. Although Blu-Rays and alternating current are now world standards, its uptake was driven by market interests. Although synthetic biology is still an emerging technology, it could have a great impact across society. Thus, by collaborating among different stakeholders and enforcing a systematic review of the processes, the project contributions will be balanced and aligned with the interest of the whole society.
The project started on late 2018, so we are expecting their results eagerly! Stay tuned to Twitter for more.