Friendzymes was conceived to develop a frugal biofoundry for the production of enzymes essential for synthetic biology. In this sense, the Friendzymes project is intrinsically a human practice because it was created by the community, for the community. Thus, for our human practice’s approach, we felt the need to mirror the plurality that is embedded in the core of the project itself. Our aim was to create something that would be meaningful and constructive for people, regardless of the country they hail from. This aim is reflected in the members of our team as they come from many diverse nationalities.
Where we came from
With the skyrocketing growth of biotechnology in recent years and the diverse applications being discovered and documented every month, it is safe to say that biotechnology is a flourishing scientific field. There are several examples of how biotechnological approaches have been critical in developing durable, cheap, and efficient industrial tools and processes. However, this field still has huge accessibility barriers because the enzymes and reagents for molecular biology, the means of biotechnological production, are expensive and hard to access, especially for people in developing countries and outside academia and industry. This problem was acutely felt through enzyme shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to supply chains, there are many limitations regarding patent licensing and intellectual property infringement, making it difficult to contribute, collaborate, and openly share discoveries among various groups. Therefore, Friendzymes calls for the democratization of biotechnology.
Democratizing biotechnology can have many different meanings depending on perspective. In high-income countries, democratizing biotech can mean providing community labs with less expensive ways to do their work since they often don't have funding from large institutions. Another method for democratizing biotech in high-income countries, which we learned from a community member during our biofoundries hackathon, is to generate resources for high schools to conduct experiments with their students. However, in low-income countries, the needs are often different since even the large institutes have limited access to laboratory supplies. This may be caused by a number of reasons including weak currencies in relation to the dollar - the most common currency for purchasing laboratory supplies; a general lack of financing; the difficulty of importation (including high shipping rates); and the difficulties of transporting biological materials, e.g. if the product has to be kept at lower temperatures. Both perspectives must be taken into consideration when attempting to democratize biotechnology for all. Given the international, diverse, and heterogeneous nature of Friendzymes (see Diversity section ), we understand this vividly.
A literally Global initiative
To address these constraints and limitations, we sought solutions that were open, built on important values to help build a fairer and more accessible SynBio community. On our path, we found the Free Genes Project (FreeGenes) and the Open Materials Transfer Agreement (OpenMTA). By being inspired with initiatives, we hope to encourage the use of an approach that makes it possible for everyone to have access to off-patent, biosecurity-screened DNA parts (either from pre-existing libraries or designed by the requestor), for free. We believe that this technology and expertise shouldn’t be restricted to those who can afford it. We want to make it in a way that the final product is so accessible that anyone can do Synthetic Biology no matter where they come from or how much money they have.
One of the most crucial parts to take into consideration and the main focus of our project is then to manufacture efficient enzymes. These are biological parts of vital importance for Biotechnology itself and are present in most projects and applications. They also have an important role in the industry today, as well as potential applications being screened. Most enzymes require a lot of work to be optimized, and the best ones are usually reserved for a handful of hyper secret researchers in big labs. We focused on manufacturing because with them the path for democratizing Biotechnology becomes astronomically wider than before. In summary, we want to show how a biofoundry can be useful to the future of Biotechnology by tweaking and engineering the very things that make this industry expensive, the Biology itself. And the low-cost manufacturing of enzymes is exactly how we’re going to reach that goal.
Uniting the friends of Friendzymes
We had discussions with various layers of the community and we invite you to visit the Integrated Human Practices section to understand in detail which of these dialogues were considered most important and how they impacted our design in different ways. We like to think that our project and our team itself are the outcomes of a hardworking collaboration between so many people and institutions.
In a brief summary, in the early stages of the development of the project we met with the Bacillus expert Dan Ziegler, who gave us very precious information about the organism and how it behaved, leading to suggestions about how projects involving this organism could be helpful and impactful to the platform. One of our other partners was the Open Insulin organization whose founder Anthony Di Franco gave us precious intel on how insulin production was made and why it was so expensive even with all the advancements. We also talked to him about managing large groups and keeping people engaged in our cause of making biology free.
We also chatted with Chad Childers, Mathew Monsees, and Lissette Bouza from Opentrons that resulted in marvelous collaborations on the automation of our processes(robots!) and insights about how we should conduct our modus operandi. Sebastian Cocioba also helped us to improve our hardware by giving tips on DIY Bioreactors and other lab types of equipment that could be made at a low cost.
When it came to Software we chose to seek people who took matters into their own hands to fix issues and still made their final products free of charge to contribute to the democratization of science. Timothy Styles was a great collaborator since he is the creator of the package we decided to collaborate and improve for this project. Vinoo Selvarajah was also crucial for our software development as he inspired us to investigate further the use of automated pipelines for the parts design task, and subsequently decided to translate part of our scripts to the GitHub Actions format. Robert Lee Read also was a gigantic collaborator as he connected us with wonderful people at Helpful Engineering and Public Invention to help our hardware side of the team to brainstorm prototypes further! He also gave us good advice on how to conduct funding request meetings, and we also got to learn about ways to fund our hardware prototype. We also wouldn’t have get where we are right now without the help from Arye Lipman, who brainstormed with us about potential methods for continuing Friendzymes and funding future projects through the selling of enzymes produced from the frugal biotechnology Friendzymes produces, and Andrew Hessel, who provided us with help and tips about our Gofundme page.
Every single person/organization listed here counts as one a friend of Friendzymes. People that hugged our cause and chose to believe that our objectives were worth fighting for. And to them we are extremely grateful.
The gamechanger event
One thing that crossed us while brainstorming on it was that if we wanted for people to feel included, integrated, and excited about frugal biofoundries we needed to bring those assets to their own local reality. With that in mind, we organized a hackathon in partnership with Thomas Landrain, Leo Blondel, Paige Perillat-Piratoine and Heloisa Oss-Boll, all from Just One Giant Lab (JOGL), bringing together people from all over the world to discuss possible applications that a frugal biofoundry would have in their own countries or communities. The goal of the hackathon was for people (whether they were part of iGEM teams or not) to get together and brainstorm on the possibilities that the implementation of a frugal biofoundry would have in their communities.
In total there were over 10 organizations that helped in shaping the Friendzymes project, all of them contributing in their own way in shaping the project. We believe that one of our greatest achievements as a team was to take care that we had different inputs from different people from different backgrounds. That was fundamental for the final shaping of what our final product would be. And each person provided us with key information on how enzymes can be inserted on the market as a foundation and as a very safe alternative for various industrial processes. All of that worked in favor of the development of an intrinsic commitment, with responsibility coming from everyone in the team.