SynBio Brings Together Synthetic Biology’s Best and Brightest

On Wednesday, March 6 2019, Ontario Genomics hosted their annual Canada SynBio conference at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, Canada.

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This year’s Canada SynBio Conference displayed Ontario’s thriving community of synthetic biologists. The well-anticipated keynote speaker, 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 germline editing and emphasized the importance of global surveillance.

Panels of selected scientists and business leaders took to the stage. Whether it was finding innovative ways of using synthetic biology for sustainable agriculture or highlighting the growing cannabis industry’s need to scale up production and develop a sound legal framework, the day brought together a community of experts who highlighted key challenges facing their industries.

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The second half of the conference featured a spectacular display of Canada’s budding entrepreneurial talent, with a star-studded array of venture capital representatives giving sound advice to budding companies in synthetic biology.

Chase the companies that make a difference.” - Dr. Gamesh Kishore of SynBioBeta

Six finalists took part in a hotly anticipated pitch competition. TATUM Bioscience was the second place runner-up, with FREDsense Technologies Corp. taking home a $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 industry was shown to be a viable alternative to academia. Many graduates, including myself, are struggling with the difficult choices facing them at this important stage of their scientific career, so it was uplifting to see former graduate students being creative and branching outside of their comfort zones.

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The conference ended with keynotes. Notably, Dr. Christina Agapakis, Creative Director at Ginkgo Bioworks, highlighted their company’s massive enzyme codebase and discussed the ethics of genetically modified foods.

While the conference highlighted many major hurdles that still face industry, there was no shortage of innovative ideas providing potential solutions to these challenges. I was impressed by the growing community of synthetic biologists in Ontario, and heartened at the opportunities that lie ahead for a new generation of pioneering scientists to pave the way forward in genomics.

- written by Louis Ho, PhD Candidate, Nodwell Lab, Department of Biochemistry, University of Toronto