Western University hosts second annual synthetic biology symposium

August 23, 2017

On July 28, 2017, Western University held their second annual synthetic biology symposium entitled ‘Inventing the Future’. Over 225 participants from across Ontario attended to learn about cutting edge research being done at universities and startup companies like Ardra and Designer Microbes, as well as hear from technology providers including BioNano Genomics, who made the trip from Boston.

“Attendance almost doubled from the first symposium and included more people from outside of London, showing the growing interest in synthetic biology and critical mass forming,” noted Dave Edgell, professor at Western and co-organizer of the event.

Ihor Boszko, VP of Business Development at Ontario Genomics (OG), kicked off the day by talking about OG’s initiative to mobilize Ontario’s synthetic biology community.
“We have a vision to grow synthetic biology into a major scientific and economic contributor in the province, which starts by building the ecosystem through events like this. Ontario is only going to be successful if we bring together groups from the public and private sectors to work together to use engineering biology to tackle problems like climate change, food security and human health,” remarked Ihor Boszko.

The day of talks covered a broad range of topics in synthetic biology, including applications in agriculture from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; foundational engineering and computational tools to understand and control cell behavior; and biomanufacturing. Keynote speaker Dr. Turlough Finan spoke about nitrogen fixation and its potential to reduce fertilizer use, work funded through Genome Canada’s Disruptive Innovations in Genomics programme.

In a day primarily focused on science and commercialization, Drs. Kathleen Hill and Juan Luis Suárez added a unique perspective by discussing the implications of synthetic biology on human identify and evolution, highlighting the rapid technological progress in the field and the need to rigorously study social and ethical implications.

Perhaps most interesting for entrepreneurially minded students in attendance, Jonas Mueller, CSO of biotech startup Ardra Bio, discussed the commercialization of synthetic biology technology, describing their journey from academic lab to the venture-backed Indie Bio accelerator in San Francisco and subsequent return to JLabs Toronto.

Organizers at Western University look forward to growing this annual event as a place where stakeholders across the ecosystem can come together.