On Wednesday, March 6th, 2019, Ontario Genomics and their partners hosted their annual SynBio conference at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, Canada.
This year’s Canada SynBio Conference displayed Ontario’s thriving community of synthetic biologists. The well-anticipated keynote lecturer, Dr. George Church kicked off the conference by highlighting his laboratory’s work on integrating CRISPR technology that could one day make humans resistant to viruses and cancer. Later, during the Q&A session, Church, discussed the ethics of human germ-line editing and emphasized the importance of global surveillance.
Panels of selected scientists and business leaders then took the stage. Whether it was finding innovative ways of using synthetic biology for sustainable agriculture or highlighting the growing cannabis industry’s need for scaling up production and developing legal framework. The day brought together a community of experts that highlighted key challenges facing their industries.
The second half of the conference was a spectacular display of Canada’s budding entrepreneurial talent. It began with a star-studded array of venture capital representatives who gave sound advice to budding companies in synthetic biology. Dr. Ganesh Kishore of Spruce Capital Partners: “Chase the companies that make a difference”.
Six finalists took part in the pitch competition. TATUM Bioscience was the second place runner-up while FREDsense Technologies Corp. took home the $25,000 grand prize. These companies are the ones to watch in the coming years.
From my perspective as a graduate student, the most compelling part of the conference was how the industry was shown as a viable alternative to academia. For many people that I know are struggling with difficult choices at this important stage of their scientific career, it was uplifting to see former graduate students being creative and branching outside of their comfort zone.
The conference ended with keynotes. Notably, Dr. Christina Agapakis who is the creative director at Ginkgo Bioworks highlighted their company’s massive enzyme codebase and discussed the ethics of genetically modified foods.
While the conference highlighted major hurdles that still face the industry, there was no shortage of ideas that brought up innovative solutions to these challenges. I was impressed by the growing community of synthetic biologists in Ontario and the opportunities that lie ahead for a new generation of pioneering scientists to pave the way forward.
Written by Louis Ho, PhD Candidate, Nodwell Lab, Department of Biochemistry, University of Toronto