Team:KU Leuven/Symposium


Event summary

On September the 7th, 2015 we organized the KU Leuven iGEM 2015 Symposium on Synthetic Biology, Cell Systems and Ethics in Biochemistry. Hosted guests included 4 neighbouring iGEM teams, academic staff, students, sponsors, and iGEM supporters from 6 different European countries. During this full-day event, the participants had a chance to attend the lectures by home speakers as well as by invited international keynote speakers from both the academia and the industry. The iGEM teams presented their research, and probably the most awaited part - the debate on ethics in biochemistry with panel of well selected experts lead by an experienced professional moderator - took place in the afternoon. To fulfil all the needs, goodie-bags, drinks, lunch, and dinner were provided to our guests. The day finished with a sightseeing walk around Leuven centre. Participation was free of charge. We hosted almost a hundred guests and received a very positive feedback.

Evaluation form quotes

"Very professionally organized. Very well run. Great speakers - diverse agenda."
"The lectures were super interesting!"
"Great symposium, I loved it!!"
"Amazing keynote speakers and a fantastic moderator. Everything was perfectly organized.”
"Food was very good!"
"It was the best symposium I have ever attended!!! Outstanding organization!!!"
"Very good symposium. The keynote speakers were marvellous, the debate was interesting, with panel members who were very well selected!"

Home speaker Vera van Noort talked about lessons from systems biology of a minimal organism for synthetic biology. In the EMBL, where she worked, they wanted to completely describe one organism, namely Mycoplasma pneumoniae. For complete understanding, three different levels were studied:
The metabolism, transcription (regulation) and protein complexes. The take-home messages for synthetic biology in short: transcription regulation is more than operons and transcription factors; enzymes can catalyse multiple reactions and are organized in multi-subunit complexes; proteins can be part of multiple complexes and can be regulated by post-translational modifications and small peptides are essential.

Victor Dillard, the first keynote speaker, is the founder of Desktop Genetics. The company is building software for biologists, with a focus on synthetic biology. The software helps to improve the efficiency and to lower the costs. He explained that genome editing remains hard and became a design and software challenge, and not purely biological challenge. This is because genome editing needs to be accurate, precise, effective and rapid.

Sebastian Maerkl, the second keynote speaker, discussed the topic cell-free synthetic biology. He explained that microfluidics with cell-free lysate can be used for rapid prototyping of biological systems. One of the advantages is that it has defined and controllable reaction conditions. In vitro prototyping is used to speed up research in synthetic biology. The pipeline of cell-free synthetic biology: design a biological circuit, build the circuit, test parts and circuits, characterize working circuits, clone and implement in vivo.

The second home speaker, Yves Peeters, gave a talk about directed evolution of polymerases using synthetic biology methods. The research of Yves Peeters is part of the research domain Xenobiology, creating alternative life, one of the approaches of synthetic biology. XNA, also called orthogonal DNA, is designed by several labs using different strategies. Making organisms with XNA will be an ultimate biosafety tool for synthetic biology. Before being able to have a liveable organism that uses XNA, there is a need for polymerases recognizing the specific XNA. To create the wanted polymerases, Yves uses directed evolution, including mutagenesis, screening, amplification and iteration of the most active enzymes.

Photo of the participating speakers and 
                iGEM teams at the symposium.

Photo of the participating speakers and iGEM teams at the symposium. Click and on image and use arrow buttons to browse trough more pictures.



Sebastian Maerkl, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, The Laboratory of Biological Network Characterization (LBNC)
Sebastian Maerkl's lab conducts research at the interface of engineering and biology and is active in the areas of systems biology, synthetic biology and molecular diagnostics. They are driven by the desire to learn how to rationally design and engineer biological systems. Sebastian Maerkl’s research aims to develop new microfluidic technologies and apply them to solve biological problems. His rare expertise allows him to combine the design of new tools with advanced research in biology. Sebastian Maerkl is internationally recognized for his many outstanding contributions. Particularly in combining synthetic biology and computational systems with microfluidics, he demonstrated that the expression of genes in vivo can be provided based on the binding energy profiles in vitro. His studies will focus on five areas: the bioengineering of biosystems, the engineering of transcriptional regulatory networks, the engineering of genes and genomes, the engineering of biological systems de novo and the development of a new generation of diagnostic devices.

Victor Dillard, Chief Operating Officer & Founder, Desktop Genetics
Victor obtained his masters in chemical engineering with honours at Imperial College London before completing a specialist biotechnology and business masters with distinction at the University of Cambridge. Since graduating, Victor founded Desktop Genetics with a vision to change modern biotech R&D and enable rapid and accurate end-to-end genome engineering experiments through their proprietary software platform. Within two years of founding Desktop Genetics, Victor has raised over $600,000 of private equity and grant financing, and delivered over $400,000 of revenue. Today, Victor heads the company's business development and operations and is leading the product and technology expansion into CRISPR and genome editing.

Vera van Noort, Center for Microbial and Plant Genetics
The research group led by Vera van Noort is interested in understanding biological systems as a whole. They try to achieve this through computational analysis of large-scale data generated by the ever growing number of new technologies that can systematically measure the behaviour of multiple cellular components, such as biochemical activities, biophysical properties, subcellular localization and interaction. They use and develop new methods to integrate, visualize and query the large amounts of information available and in such a way come to new biological discoveries. A particular focus of the group is proteomics and post-translational modifications.

Yves Peeters, Laboratory of Biochemistry, Molecular and Structural Biology
After completing his master thesis at KU Leuven, Yves obtained an IWT fellowship for his PhD work in the field of synthetic biology. His primary interest goes to DNA polymerases and their modifications towards creation of artificial nucleic acids.


07.09.2015 10:00 – 19:00
KU Leuven Campus Arenberg, Celestijnenlaan 200A (Computer Science) aula 00.225, Heverlee, Belgium


KU Leuven iGEM 2015 Symposium
on Synthetic Biology, Cell Systems and Ethics in Biochemistry
Leuven 07.09.2015
9:00-10:00 Registration and welcome tea/coffee
Morning Block 10:00-10:10 Welcome words by Prof. Johan Robben
10:10-10:35 Home speaker: Vera van Noort
Center for Microbial and Plant Genetics
"Lessons from systems biology of a minimal organism for synthetic biology"
10:35-11:35 Keynote speaker: Victor Dillard
Chief Operating Officer & Founder, Desktop Genetics
"Through synthetic biology to entrepreneurship"
Presentation by the iGEM Teams
11:40-11:50 iGEM Paris-Saclay: "SafetE.coli"
11:55-12:05 iGEM TU Eindhoven: "Click Coli"
12:05-13:05 Lunch Break, networking
Early Afternoon Block 13:05-14:05 Keynote speaker: Sebastian Maerkl
École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, LBNC
"Cell-Free synthetic biology"
14:05-14:30 Home speaker: Yves Peeters
Laboratory of Biochemistry: Molecular and Structural Biology
"Directed evolution of polymerases using synthetic biology methods"
Presentation by the iGEM Teams
14:35-14:45 iGEM Amsterdam: "[Photo]Synthetic Romance"
14:50-15:00 iGEM TU Darmstadt: "Building with light/Labsurfing"
15:05-15:20 iGEM KU Leuven: "Spot E.Shape"
15:25-15:50 Tea/Coffee break
Evening block 15:50-16:00 Introduction of the debate experts: Prof. Bart De Moor (KU Leuven), Prof. Johan Robben (KU Leuven), Dr. Stijn Bruers (UGent), Prof. Vera van Noort (KU Leuven), Victor Dillard (Desktop Genetics).
Moderator: Prof. Piet Van der Meer (Ugent/VUB)
16:00-17:00 A debate on the ethics in synthetic biology and biochemistry
17:00-17:10 Closing words
17:10-19:00 Wok and Talk Chinese dinner reception
19:30 Leuven Kermis – Visit to Leuven Centrum for interested people

Drinks and food

Beverages, lunch sandwiches and dinner-reception where be provided for all the participants free of charge.



Address: Celestijnenlaan 200G room 00.08 - 3001 Heverlee
Telephone: +32(0)16 32 73 19