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Issue 5: June 2022

From the Director

Welcome to the final newsletter for the Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform (SynBio FSP).

Many of you have been with us on this journey from the very beginning - right back in 2016 when we set out to with the aim to create and foster a step change in national synthetic biology capability.

At the time, synthetic biology presented an exciting opportunity for Australia, with transformative and disruptive potential in applications as diverse as manufacturing, human health, agriculture and protecting ecosystems. Historically, the Australian synthetic biology community had been fragmented, and there was low overall public awareness of synthetic biology applications. Consequently, there was some uncertainty in how the public, and consequently investors, would embrace new innovations. The SynBio FSP was tasked with building a strong local synthetic biology ecosystem that would allow for such solutions to flourish.

One of our key priorities was to develop the next generation of scientists ready to embrace the SynBio revolution. And we did that by training nearly one hundred early-mid career researchers (EMCRs) over the course of the FSP, and further supporting them through our globally linked Community of Practice. We invested in research projects designed to train PhD students and EMCRs, supporting the Australasian SynBio Challenge, and brought this amazing community together through the support of annual workshops and conferences. This flourishing local synthetic biology capability is now an invaluable resource for the growing Australian synthetic biology start-up community. It will also further underpin CSIRO and the university sector's growth in this space.

Responsible innovation and public engagement were identified as key priorities for the SynBio FSP in establishing the social license to operate in this area of breakthrough science, and providing a robust evidence base to support our decision to fund high risk, high return projects. A dedicated team of social scientists embedded in the program published a world-first baseline survey of public acceptance of synthetic-biology enabled technologies in Australia. This critically laid the groundwork for synthetic biology scientists across the country who are developing solutions to some of our most pressing problems.

Targeted engagement undertaken with state and federal governments and industry allowed us to test and interrogate our ideas as the FSP matured. This included relationship building with key players in the Queensland sugar industry and the delivery of a suite of targeted workshops. We deepened our understanding of potential synthetic biology applications through high level engagement with the Queensland Government. We also connected with US-based synbio start-up companies and noted their foundations for success, such as access to feedstock, ports, transport, large scale contract manufacturing facilities, R&D tax incentives and a secure intellectual property environment. This targeted engagement fundamentally helped cement the SynBio FSP as a catalyst for innovative solutions to pressing problems. Queensland, in particular, is now globally recognised as a vibrant landscape to invest, attract talent, and grow synthetic-based industries.

Today, CSIRO has a synthetic biology network of 45 partners, including 24 Australian universities and 17 international institutions. Through a nationally and internationally coordinated effort, the SynBio FSP has helped foster a cultural shift in development of a vibrant landscape for a local bioeconomy.
At a commercial level, the program’s success is evident in the exponential growth in venture capital investment into new seed companies, from zero in 2016, to more than 20 in 2022. The FSP has delivered four full patents, one proprietary Algorithm, three trade secrets and one lapsed patent, plus three provisional patents in development.

But none of these achievements would have been possible without you. I would like to acknowledge everyone who has contributed to the FSP's success. This includes:

  • Prof. Claudia Vickers (former Director)
  • The FSP Program Management team: Dr Alison Rice, Emily Knauth, Louise Burton, Lauren Dale, and Cassie Moutia;
  • Dr Paul Bertsch (Science Council Sponsor);
  • Our Application Domain Leaders, Dr Andrew Warden, Dr Charlotte Williams, Dr Owain Edwards, Dr Thomas Vanhercke, Dr Aditi Mankad, Dr Andy Bean and Dr Kristie Jenkins;
  • The Land & Water Business Development and Commercialisation team: Dr Jacqui Watt, Meg Moate, Louisa Rapson, Stephen O’Dowd and Dr Steven Wibowo;
  • Our communications team, Nick Kachel, Melina Gillespie, Sophie Schmidt, Larissa Sherman and Helen Brinkman;
  • The Land & Water Finance and HR support team, David Rehe, Denise Bailey, Marilen Silverio, Julie Carroll and Kelly Holloway.

We also extend a deep thanks to our university partners, as well as our government and industry supporters. Thanks also to CSIRO for providing the financial support that enabled the SynBio FSP to deliver on its vision, our university partners for co-funding our FSP Fellows and to our valued International Advisory Panel for their continued guidance.

While the SynBio FSP is coming to a close, CSIRO’s SynBio activities are continuing to grow. Excitement is building for CSIRO’s incoming Advanced Engineering Biology FSP, which will formally commence from 1 July 2022. The new FSP reflects a heightened commitment to Australia’s bioeconomy which has been forecasted to unlock up to $27 billion in annual revenue and 44,000 new jobs for Australia by the year 2040.

CSIRO will continue to work with new synthetic biology start-ups, including those focussed on precision fermentation technology, with the expertise of Thomas Vanhercke and Michelle Colgrave, and we look forward to continuing our connection with the CSIRO SynBio community through the SynBio cross-cutting capability led by Charlotte Williams.

Finally, after nearly twelve months as the Director of the SynBio FSP, I will be continuing my own SynBio journey by stepping into a newly created role as Director of the CSIRO BioFoundry.

So while this newsletter marks our sign-off from the Synthetic Biology FSP, rest assured that it is not goodbye. We're just getting started.

Colin Scott
Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform Director