Cell Free Systems - Event Blog

What the Hell are Cell Free System?

By Sean Bankier - 26 February 2019

February’s event marked the first Café Synthetique session of the new year and it certainly did not disappoint. Cell free systems have been utilised for some time as tools to study biological reactions without the need for a living cell. This has allowed those working in synthetic biology to manipulate different molecular components in isolation from the complex cellular environment.

Trevor Ho kicked off the session by introducing cell free systems to our audience. Trevor made clear the advantages of cell free systems, emphasising that in addition to the obvious advantage of being able to focus on the biological components of interest, another upside is being able to remove any pesky components that may interfere with what you are attempting to investigate. Trevor also drew attention to some of the troubling drawbacks of such technology, including the potential production of viruses or other pathogenic genetic material from such systems.

Professor Chris French followed up from Trevor with a discussion on the use of cell free systems for the development of biosensors to detect arsenic within groundwater. This proved to be a fascinating talk, providing comprehensive insight into the full process of developing tools for SynBio; from the science, to application in the field and the experience of wrangling with the complex legal structures that regulate such technologies. This led to questions and discussion relating to IP, the legislation involved and the ethics of such technology that is often employed in the developing world. The questions posed really showed that our audience is not only interested in the underlying science but also keen to take on the practical implications of new technology!

This was another excellent event made possible not only by two fantastic speakers but also by an engaged and enthusiastic audience. One of our key aims with Café Synthetique was to create a space not just for speakers, but one where conversations around synthetic biology could be held by anyone. Events like this help us to fulfil this goal and show that there is a real hunger for conversation around synthetic biology in Edinburgh!