The OpenPlant Project

Jenny Molloy

This is a presentation given on 20 January, 2016, at the Open Tools and Infrastructure for Biology 2016 held at Newcastle University.

Plants provide proven, global, low-cost technology for gigatonne scale bioproduction. Synthetic biology offers breakout technologies. Plants are useful because they are faster but still simple multicellular systems for engineering form and metabolism. Plant biotechnology is often beset by restrictive IP practices that threaten to constrain innovation. Creating open tools and technologies for plant experimentation will be very useful for future research. For instance, many parts of a typical plant expression vector are under patent. And once you start engineering entire metabolic pathways, the worry is that such patents will be an increasingly problematic issue. In seed patents, a small number of large players hold most of the information.

In plant biotechnology, most applications are IP protected. What would be useful to have is a shared toolset to promote innovation, and might allow smaller players to enter the market. More importantly there would be a social benefit WRT agriculture, drug production and greater openness. OpenPlant would be completely free and available to everyone, but leave some room to allow people to also go through the patent process if they choose. There are currently very few plant “parts” or biobricks available at the moment (compared with microbial parts).

There are a number of work programmes that the Open Plant initiative is trying to build: open technology EZ-MTA / Open MTA, a common syntax for DNA parts, low-cost automated assembly, marchantia (a simple plant chassis), genome-scale DNA engineering, and shared libraries of biological parts and resources. There are also core laboratories in Cambridge and Norwich, and the OpenPlant Fund (funding specifically for small-scale interdisciplinary projects).

Foundational Technology: Chassis, DNA Assembly, Gene expression, Genome engineering, open source software and modelling. Trait engineering projects include photosynthesis, carbohydrate engineering, natural products, nitrogen fixation, and virus-based methods for bioproduction.

Please note that this post is merely my notes on the presentation. I may have made mistakes: these notes are not guaranteed to be correct. Unless explicitly stated, they represent neither my opinions nor the opinions of my employers. Any errors you can assume to be mine and not the speaker’s. I’m happy to correct any errors you may spot – just let me know!

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