“Need to build awareness about emerging science of synthetic biology”

Mentioned Prof Pawan Dhar, Head, Synthetic Biology Group, School of Biotechnology, Jawaharlal Nehru University and the organizing head of iBEM 2017 during an exclusive interaction

0
439
Download PDF

In an exclusive interaction, Prof Pawan Dhar, Head, Synthetic Biology Group, School of Biotechnology, Jawaharlal Nehru University and the organizing head of iBEM 2017 shared interesting insights into the need for such an event and much more. Read the excerpts from his conversation with the BioVoice News below:


BV_icon-150x150What was the major objective behind organizing such a meeting in India? How is it unique?
The earlier two events organized by us helped to create a certain momentum and the community was sensitized towards emergence of a new field. Now our responsibility is to take it to a new level where we regularly have this kind of networking and knowledge sharing platform in India. And that is where we felt that we should now park it under an appropriate name. Hopefully, there will be big event every year now. Big challenge was to get the speakers of various expertise on a single platform but we were fortunate to be able to do that.
BV_icon-150x150
How much awareness exists currently at the academic level as far as this field is concerned?
Based on my experience in the outreach program, not even undergrads were aware. They had just heard about the word ‘synthetic biology’ but don’t understand the meaning. The worst thing is that at the faculty level, there is too much variation in the real understanding of the subject. It is very difficult to convince few that this is a new kind of science.
Event like these do reinforce the definition and help build awareness. We highlight the fascinating subject to bring out its uniqueness. There is an immediate need to build awareness about the subject.

“I can see that to the large extent we have met the objectives. Through this event, we are trying to build new excitement among the students so that they ask questions and leads to more interactions as a final step”

BV_icon-150x150
Why is this event going to benefit the bioscience community?
I think it is for the first time in our country that we have engaged the student community in such an exercise. Right from the high school level, we have got eight students handpicked from their classes and given them exposure to the modern trends in bioscience. At the event, we have good mixture of crowd consisting of undergrads, Msc/PhD, postdocs and faculty as well in the audience. I had requested all the speakers to make it a TED like event so that it becomes interesting for the students and they don’t get nervous o overwhelmed.
I can see that to the large extent we have met the objectives. Through this event, we are trying to build new excitement among the students so that they ask questions and leads to more interactions as a final step. The whole idea is to bring upon the strengths and make this a recurring event.   
BV_icon-150x150
Are we going to witness even the bigger format of the event from next time?
That requires huge funding and resources besides organizational commitment and time. We have been managing somehow due to great support from the community and funding agencies. While we received generous funds from the private sector, NIPER contributed major chunk of funds. It helped us to pull off the event nicely at this scale.
The second event is going to be iBEM 2.0 at KIIT Bhubaneshwar on February 8th-9th next year.
BV_icon-150x150
In the context of synthetic biology, how near are we to the product translations?
When we talk about the commercial application and community acceptance of the subject, one of the technical platform has been Long DNA Synthesis technology. While the transfection vectors have been chemically synthesized, there is now talk about synthesizing a genome or even a chromosome. Thus, the things are move up the scale on technology development perspective.
Now, on the product translational level, the development of Artemisinin drug at the University of California, Berkeley is an example how plant compounds were produced in a microbe, Likewise I am sure, we will see more and more innovations in future. It is the question of who is going to go up first.
BV_icon-150x150
Can you shed some light on the importance of bioethics?
Biosafety, bioethics and intellectual property rights are all usually discussed together at any synthetic biology platform. On the bioethics front, most of the community in India follows same biosafety protocol. So, we don’t have different ethical standards here. However, with time, there is need to evolve guidelines. We have been trying to sensitize the govt agencies for need to do that.
I have been in talks with the Department of Biotechnology, Govt of India on the need for a Delhi Declaration which would be the outcome of the high-level discussions by experts. People are going to ask for a policy document to guide on synthetic biology. However, I am told that DBT is sensitized towards this aspect and a new taskforce is going to come up on this soon. That’s good news.
BV_icon-150x150
What is the current focus of research activities in your research laboratory?
We are trying to develop a brand-new drug discovery platform for the community. Our work has demonstrated that what we used to call non-coding intergenic region between genes, can be used to produce brand new proteins. For example, synthesis of anti-malarial compounds from intergenic regions in yeast. Similarly, anti-Leishmaniasis compounds from E Coli intergenic regions.
When I met few industry members at Bangalore, I was told that we would require 200 PhDs for such work. So, we are looking for funding. If we get it, we will do the scale up.

NO COMMENTS