JIMB sponsored a Build-a-Cell Workshop at Stanford University on February 2, 2018 for synthetic biologists to convene on the science and engineering necessary to create synthetic cells. The more we collaborate on this challenging goal, the greater likelihood of success. This was the second Build-a-Cell Workshop, and approximately 50 individuals from Academia, Industry and Government participated*. The workshop was free and open for anyone to attend.

Purpose
Cells are the fundamental "building blocks" that make up living organisms. Yet, we don't know exactly how cells are formed in the first place. We also don't know what all the molecules that make up any natural cell do. Finally, we can't yet put molecules together ourselves to make new synthetic cells. 

Building a cell will do more than demonstrate and guide our understanding of life. It will create a biological platform upon which the next generation of biotechnology can be built. Rationally designed genomes will facilitate more rapid, more complex, and more controlled engineering. In the short term, this will provide tangible improvements across all areas of biotechnology application: human health, energy, environment, and industry. In the long term, we expect the combination of reliable forward engineering, an open and shared platform, and shared tools for abstraction and collaboration will lead to exponential growth in inspiration and innovation. Building synthetic cells is valuable not for the applications we can predict, but for those which we cannot.

The first Build-a-Cell workshop took place at Caltech in the Summer of 2017, with a purpose of determining whether Build-a-Cell's mission is worth pursuing. Now that the stakeholders have agreed that the mission is worthwhile, this second workshop helped identify where to focus our collective efforts.

Topics Covered

  • Safety, Ethics, People and Organization 
  • Astrobiology/Origin of Life
  • Regenerative Central Dogma
  • In Silico Cell Modeling
  • Controlling Encapsulation
  • Cell Free Expression Systems
  • Current Methods and Limitations for Building Synthetic Cells
  • Approaches to Building a Cell

Outcome
Channels for continued collaboration have opened amongst the participants who attended the workshop. Conversations that started in person at Stanford are continuing. Many participants identified ways to funnel ideas covered in the workshop into their current projects, knowing that they have support from the other participants as needed. This cross-cultivation of different ideas and approaches is meaningful.

Next Steps
The facilitators of the workshop are drafting a Research Coordination Networks (RCN) proposal for the next Build-a-Cell Workshop. In the meantime, we invite new participants to join the conversation by joining the Slack group via the link below.

*Participants
Representatives from the following organizations attended the February 2018 Workshop: BioBricks Foundation, Caltech, Harvard Medical School, Harvard University, J. Craig Venter Institute, Joint Initiative for Metrology in Biology (JIMB), Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, NASA Ames Research Center, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Northwestern University, Real Vegan Cheese, Stanford University, Synthetic Genomics, Synvitrobio, UC Davis, UC Los Angeles, UC San Francisco, UC Santa Cruz, Universities Space Research Association, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota