Friendzymes’ goal is to democratize biotechnology, meaning we are trying to bring biotechnology to everyone. Here at Friendzymes, we believe that inclusivity has a three-fold meaning when it comes to democratizing synthetic biology and bioengineering: including those from all different economic backgrounds, from all national and cultural backgrounds, and from all educational backgrounds. We believe that the power of synbio can only be realized insofar as it is able to be practiced by all peoples, all colors, and all economies. Without these foundational principles, the benefits will only be felt by a limited few.
The top countries for synbio spend hundreds of billions of USD each year on their research . Clearly, this economic investment is not possible for every country that wishes to be involved in synbio, nor should it be expected. Friendzymes tackles this problem by developing tools and processes which enable low-cost manufacturing and purification of enzymes required for synbio (see Engineering Success). By developing and freely publishing our research, Friendzymes gives regions with lower economic power the ability to conduct and develop their own synbio research and technology. Doing so will not only improve those regions conducting the research, but will benefit all other areas of bioengineering and synbio as new ideas and technology are produced that would have been neglected.
Friendzymes’ iGEM focus is on using Bacillus subtilis, as opposed to Escherichia coli, for enzyme production. This was done because B. subtilis is GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe), which allows for it to be used with fewer restrictions and at a greater scale than E. coli . Additionally, B. subtilis can secrete the enzymes produced, whereas E. coli must be ruptured and then the enzyme of interest separated from the rest of the cell’s biological compounds and structures. This process requires a lot of expensive equipment (sequencing machines are $25,000 - $1,000,000 and bioreactors are $1,000 - $10,000 to name a few) which is contrary to what our frugal biofoundry is trying to accomplish. By using B. subtilis, the costs for isolating the enzyme decreases dramatically as we only need to separate the enzyme from the cell, and not other cellular compounds and structures. By developing procedures for this form of enzyme production, Friendzymes opens the door to synthetic biology for biofoundries and labs around the world that would not otherwise be able to produce and isolate enzymes.
One of Friendzymes core values is including those from all backgrounds, including nationality, culture, and ethnicity. We have been actively pursuing intercultural and international members, contributing to our growth as we are a team of over 25 people from 10 different countries, including Brazil, Canada, Ghana, India, Perú, Philippines, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and United States of America. We are only missing the Antarctic and Australian continents!
There is a lack of cultural inclusion in synbio, which can be seen in the top countries: United States of America, United Kingdom, China, Germany, and Japan . With the majority of the synthetic biology communities based in Europe, United States of America, and eastern Asia, the benefits of synbio in other regions are severely limited. At Friendzymes, we believe that cultural diversity and inclusion are critical to the successful implementation of frugal biotechnology as it is the only way to fully democratize synbio. Friendzymes has 4 wetlabs around the globe in Vancouver, Canada; Davao, Philippines; Chicago, USA; and Kumasi, Ghana. This allows us to utilize resources available in various areas, as well as realize possible problems or benefits specific to each region.
Friendzymes believes that the opportunity to participate in synthetic biology should not be limited to only those who have completed many years of study in that field because. While those who are less educated might not have the scientific knowledge to understand and apply in the lab, they should still have the opportunity to learn from those who have that knowledge and experience. At Friendzymes, our core team is made of high school, undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate students. We believe that everyone, regardless of educational background, has something valuable that they can offer to any project. While someone without a scientific background may not be able to jump head first into successfully running PCR or understanding how complex cellular processes work, there is always something they can do that will allow him or her to learn the science while contributing.
Educational inclusion doesn’t stop with the level of schooling or degree you may or may not have, it also includes the field that degree is in. Breakthrough research often comes at the interface between multiple disciplines. Most researchers in synbio come from a biology background, and that is still true with Friendzymes. With minds coming from over 8 different biology backgrounds, friendzymes certainly has biology covered; however, our knowledge doesn’t stop there! We also have members with backgrounds in computer science, chemistry, communications, software engineering, electronics, plant pathology, and more! This inclusion of different fields is beneficial because of the intellectual diversity each field is able to bring to the table. While it may not be true that if everyone is a biologist, no one is a biologist, it is true that including those from different educational backgrounds serves to increase a teams problem solving capacity, and that is why educational inclusion is one of our foundational principles of inclusion .
The idea for Friendzymes started from a frugal bio class, made up of 400 students from all over the world. From that class, some of the students banded together to form Friendzymes, our intercontinental team devoted to bringing frugal biology to everyone. However, our team didn’t stop there, we continued to grow in numbers and diversity to where we are today. This growth can only be achieved by constantly reaching out to people who might have the slightest interest in our goals. More info at Integrated Human Practices.
Outreach is most successful when trying to include everyone, some will join and some will not, but overall we increase our numbers and diversity. Because Friendzymes has a project that speaks to so many people, many have and will join. Our goal of democratizing biotechnology spoke to many as labs and countries around the world felt the negative effects of centralized biotechnology when those in less advantaged regions suddenly lacked many of the tools usually required for any sort of synthetic biology research. In addition to seeing who will join Friendzymes, we also reached out to Sebastian Cocioba who provided us with many great ideas for a frugal bioreactor, processes for ensuring quality, and even some code. By doing so, we are able to continue research and development for something that he was not able to continue based on client funding.
However, outreach is more than just talking to people, it also includes collaborating and working with other organizations. Some of our organizational outreach includes Opentrons, Open Insulin, Just One Giant Lab, Bacillus Genetic Stock Centre, and MarsBio. Each of these collaborations are mutually beneficial relationships, and more about these outreaches can be found on our Integrated Human Practices. We also organized a global hackathon, through the JOGL platform, where people could get together to develop solutions to local problems.
A natural part of inclusivity is diversity, they are inseparably connected as one cannot be both inclusive and not diverse at the same time. This diversity of ideas, backgrounds, and talents is a very precious resource to Friendzymes and each member is valued for her or his contributions to the team. Friendzymes welcomes many marginalized groups including women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community. Accepting marginalized groups increases their voices and improves the quality of democratizing biotechnology. However, being so globally diverse produces some challenges, especially as our team is scattered around the world. The two greatest challenges Friendzymes had to overcome were team meetings and communication.
With a team made up of people from all over the world, hosting a single meeting for everyone to join to hear the information is close to impossible. In order for our members to feel included in Friendzymes, we host two weekly meetings at different times of day so all members have an option for a time that fits comfortably with them. If members are not able to make a meeting that is okay too! We record our meetings and share them with our members through our team’s Discord servers.
The use of Discord also allows us to communicate information about the project, important dates, and just cool facts that have been discovered without the requirement to wait for a weekly meeting. Since Discord is internet based, it does not rely on every member having an international phone plan and adding new members to the servers is easy. When talking about dates, it can often be confusing to try to remember how all the different time zones relate to yours; luckily, Discord makes that easy with their Friend Time bot, you simply add your time zone to the bot and whenever someone posts something with a time Friend Time tells you when that event would be for your time zone. What could be easier than that!
One of the many benefits of having a globally diverse team is that Friendzymes is able to operate labs all around the world. As mentioned above, we currently have operational wetlabs in Canada, Philippines, USA, and Ghana. This opens us up to research that may not be able to be done in one place, but can be done in another; developing practices for our frugal biofoundry in various climates; and in close collaboration with organizations that may only function in one region.
Being a global iGEM team shouldn’t be limited to Friendzymes, and the tools and techniques we have used shouldn’t be close secrets either; therefore, the following is a simple list of techniques you might find valuable to making your international iGEM team!
- Record Meetings
Recording meetings can really help for an international team when one member’s midday is another’s valuable 3 am rest before a test. Recording meetings is easy, and most conferencing platforms have a way to do so!
- Time Zone Manager
Knowing when an event will be is one of the most important parts of keeping a fluid team going and that is no different for an iGEM team. When your team is across many time zones, it is crucial to make the process of knowing when something is as easy as possible. Friendzymes uses Discord’s Friend Time bot, but there are many other platforms with similar functionality.
- Network and Collaborate
This is really the only way to build a global team. While this team started from an international class, yours can start from anywhere! In order to grow and receive the true benefits of a global team, you and your team must always be looking for new people and organizations that can help you grow and expand your horizons.
- Vary Educational Backgrounds
It’s easy to think that if your team is going to be focusing on a certain topic, e.g. developing drought-resistant transgenic crops, that all of your team should be composed of people purely from that field. However, this mindset will limit the ability your team has to utilize knowledge from elsewhere. Having a diverse educational background can be something that propels your team to the next level.
While this might not work for all teams, every member of Friendzymes is a volunteer who freely offers his or her time and talents toward helping Friendzymes attain its goal. This allows each member to take on the roles and tasks s/he feels comfortable doing and has time for while ensuring that each member feels included and that each is contributing her or his best work.
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