Hub Zwart: to avoid dual use, steer synthetic cell research towards sustainability

Professor and philosopher Hub Zwart: “Take history’s teachings about nuclear energy and the internet to heart: consider the consequences of synthetic cells at an earlier stage and aim towards sustainable applications.”

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The European Synthetic Cell Initiative

Finding out how life works is one of the biggest questions of the 21st century. Researchers all over Europe and beyond are building cells from their basic parts – bottom-up – in order to find answers to this question.

Since 2017, six lead researchers from Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternative (CAE), Delft University of Technology, Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry and the University of Oxford decided to join forces in the European Synthetic Cell Initiative: a growing community of synthetic cell researchers and institutions.

 

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The mission of the European Synthetic Cell Initiative is to:

  • coordinate and strengthen efforts by bottom-up synthetic cell scientists towards building a functioning synthetic cell from its basic components;
  • seek the translation – in a responsible way – of this knowledge into technological applications for a more sustainable world and a healthier humankind.

Activities will focus on three main areas. We aim to:

  1. encourage collaboration between scientists on bottom-up synthetic cell research .
  2. stimulate cooperation between scientists and industry for the development of new technologies from this research, which will lead to 100% green, cell-made materials and compounds; we aim to establish an European Centre for Bottom-Up Synthetic Biology for this purpose.
  3. facilitate ethical and RRI discussions that will lead to an ethical, societal and legal framework for the creation of synthetic cells

Building a synthetic cell and the fundamental insights that come with it, will have impact beyond scientific discoveries, influencing a broad range of industries in the areas of health, food and biobased materials. This may lead to:

  • Drugs that are able to target specific locations and tissues in the body
  • Patient‐tailored treatments in personal medicine (a.o. for cancer)
  • New applications in drug delivery systems
  • Novel screening methods for antibiotics and drugs, biosensors and against antimicrobial resistance
  • New, smart and environment‐friendlier materials for high‐tech industry
  • New biofuels and biodegradable polymers
  • Facilitation of sustainable production of safe and healthy food
  • New materials for food biotechnology
  • New methods for pathogen control

Pharmaceuticals, food, nutrition, self-healing materials, bioplastics and sustainable fuels are a few examples of applications that come from the research field of building synthetic cells. The interest of companies will grow even more as the reality of a synthetic cell comes closer.

The path towards a synthetic cell involves the development of numerous methods and tools with important spin-off possibilities in the form of test beds for synthetic biology applications, advanced drug delivery systems, drug-screening methods, and bionanodevices for multiplex detection of molecules.

Want to get involved with the Synthetic Cell initiative? Get in touch with us!

The bureau of the European Synthetic Cell Initiative does not receive funding from companies or governments, but is funded through a small budget from research institutes and foundations, the names of which you can find at the bottom of the page.

We are currently looking for funding for outreach, as well as to stimulate cooperation between scientists and industry for the development of synthetic cell technologies. Would you like to support our initiative or share ideas with us, for example an opportunity for collaboration? Please contact the European Synthetic Cell Initiative bureau by sending an email to: syntheticcell@tudelft.nl or fill in the form on our contact page!

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