Building a community to engineer synthetic cells and organelles from the bottom-up

Oskar Staufer, Jacqueline A. DE LORA, Eleonora Bailoni, Alisina Bazrafshan, Amelie S. Benk, Kevin Jahnke, Zachary A. Manzer, Lado Otrin, Telmo Díez Pérez, Judee Sharon, Jan Steinkühler, Katarzyna P. Adamala, Bruna Jacobson, Marileen Dogterom, Kerstin Göpfrich, Darko Stefanovic, Susan R. Atlas, Michael Grunze, Matthew R. Lakin, Andrew P. ShreveJoachim P. Spatz, Gabriel P. López

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Employing concepts from physics, chemistry and bioengineering, 'learning-by-building' approaches are becoming increasingly popular in the life sciences, especially with researchers who are attempting to engineer cellular life from scratch. The SynCell2020/21 conference brought together researchers from different disciplines to highlight progress in this field, including areas where synthetic cells are having socioeconomic and technological impact. Conference participants also identified the challenges involved in designing, manipulating and creating synthetic cells with hierarchical organization and function. A key conclusion is the need to build an international and interdisciplinary research community through enhanced communication, resource-sharing, and educational initiatives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere73556
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Secondly, engineering synthetic cells and organelles will be a model for new transcontinental educational modalities. SynCell2020/21 was organized by the National Science Foundation (USA) and the Max Planck Society (Germany). It also received support from national research programs, e.g., the Build-A-Cell network (USA-based) and the BaSyC program (Netherlands; Figure 1—figure supplement 1). Presentations by leading researchers in student-centered tutorials were a focus of the conference framework. Community-driven education programs for specialized training in relevant domains (biology, with established teaching infrastructure, will be physics, chemistry, microbiology, molecular essential. Especially to successfully install a stra-biology, biophysics, computer science or ethics) tegic, open-source platform for synthetic biology will be key for equipping new generations with and student exchange programs, like the ones the necessary skills to successfully engineer between the University of New Mexico and the living synthetic cells and organelles. Interna-Max Planck Society. tional workshops and research summer schools We also observe that connections to and will be important to develop a coherent, long-inspiration drawn from other research commu-lasting community that fosters cross-generational nities will be important. For example, research collaborations among scholars. advances addressing origin-of-life questions, the At present, only a limited number of training basic principles of life, and the exploration of and graduate programs focused on the engi-eukaryogenesis, connect many scientific themes neering of synthetic cells and organelles have that arise in the study of synthetic cells and been established, such as the Max Planck School organelles. This was highlighted by the obser-‘Matter to Life’, the Cold Spring Harbor Labora-vation that many SynCell2020/21 participants tory Summer School on Synthetic Biology, and are also active in these related communities. research programs supported by the US National Furthermore, expanding the research community Science Foundation ‘Rules of Life’ initiative. Their in synthetic cells to connect to these and other successful implementation will not only nurture related scientific communities opens additional the next generation of scientists but will also opportunities for research support, including that train a cohort of researchers to enable industrial available from private and philanthropic founda-applications. If possible, future events should tions. Recent examples of such initiatives include be organized between all major research and the 'Life? – A Fresh Scientific Approach to the teaching initiatives (Figure 1—figure supple- Basic Principles of Life' program, supported by ment 1) to bring together the global expertise the Volkswagen Foundation, and the 'Project and emerging talent, and to promote a broad on the Origin of the Eukaryotic Cell', sponsored distribution of thought leadership across institu-jointly by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundations as the field continues to grow and develop. tion and the Simons Foundation.

Funding Information:
The authors thank all the speakers and participants of the SynCell2020/21 and associated activities for their critical input, inspiring discussions and engaged participation. The National Science Foundation (CBET-1841170), the Max Planck Society, the New Mexico Consortium and the University of New Mexico are acknowledged for their financial support.

Publisher Copyright:
‍© Staufer et al.


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