The annual Biotechnology Research and Innovation conference, hosted by Digital Life Norway from March 20 – 21 at Grand Hotel Terminus in Bergen.
Centre leader Trygve Brautaset (pictured below) opened the program: "A centre like this has never been done before. Our goal is transdisciplinary biotechnology with strong, digital components."
The scientific program started off with a section about enzymes, the engines of biology. New computational tools can address a key challenge in biochemistry – resolving the relationship between gene and protein sequence, protein structure and function. The progress has lead to discoveries of new functions and metabolic pathways, such as the conversion pathways of the sugar D-Apiose presented by John Gerlt (pictured below).
Also, digital tools have helped uncover the relationship and variation within protein superfamilies, such as the FMN-dependent “nitroreductase” enzymes that Janine Copp studies.
Similarly, the omics-technologies are rapidly moving from lists of hits to informative networks. The progress increases our understanding of complex biological environments, such as in the cow rumen (as described by Philip Pope, pictured below), in a microalgae production facility, or in the extreme environment in hyperthermal vents on the seafloor.
The advent of CRISPR/CAS technology opens for traceless gene-editing in all species. The non-pigmented salmon, CRISPR-modified to ablate SLC45a2, is a powerful visualisation of the possibilities.
Gene editing enables basic research into the sex development and maturation of salmon, but the technology can also be applied to create a non-fertile farmed fish, biological inert to its wild relatives, as described by Anna Wargelius (pictured below).
Further, the new technology will be integrated with society. Researchers need dialogue with and trust from the public, and the goal is an open and informed debate.
Cameron Neylon (pictured above with Roger Strand) encouraged the audience to rethink the questions we ask and the answers needed by various communities in our society. Further, to increase the trust and accountability of digital research, we need to share and make our data available, as well as increase transparency and knowledge sharing, said Carole Goble.
Openness is vital, as we are approaching a stage where scientists can use nature’s own methods to refine and synthesize catalytic activity for novel and powerful technologies. The new technology will change processing industry, waste recycling, bioprocessing, energy conversion, environmental surveillance, new drugs and medical treatments, and food production.
Finally we have heard perspectives on synthetic biology from biochemical research, from industry representative Jeff Boucher, and from Pieter van Boheemen, who has been engaged in the societal and non-institutional approaches to biotechnology and its interaction with society.
A warm thank you to all the presenters who contributed to the poster session. Thank you for showcasing what goes on in the research projects, what happens at the bench, in the computers, and in the heads of tomorrow’s researchers.
Thanks to the program committee who put together the program: Gro Bjerga, Vincent Eijsink, Kjetill Jakobsen, Siri Goksøyr, Anne-Kristin Stavrum, Ana Delgado, Rune Nydal and Rune Kleppe.
Thanks to the invited and selected speakers, chair persons and all attendees that made these two days possible, and of course the support from the funders; RCN, and our institutions.
We are already looking forward to next year, and we hope to see many of you at DigitalLife 2019!