The wider social, economic and political context of science can have a large impact on how discoveries are used, and which avenues of research are pursued. Our team has focused on a few major aspects of human practices (commercialisation, legal, and education and outreach) with respect to our project. The research and information gathered in these areas has then informed our project design, from the choice of the protein (thermostable and chemically stable), to the protein-protein bonding mechanism (a system holding a US patent that does not apply in Australia), to the enzymes involved in our scaffold (enzymes desired and used by industry today). We have also communicated our project to a wide cross-section of the Australian population. Click on each section to be taken to the relevant pages.
We have explored the commercial feasibility of our project, meeting with numerous industry personnel to discuss potential applications of our technology and considerations to be had in bringing it to the Australian market. Requirements of potential consumers have also been considered in our choice of scaffold components, with a thermostable and chemically stable protein backbone being used. With a modular system attachment which has the large (and potentially protein altering) attaching structure on the prefoldin backbone we created so that all users need to do is express their proteins with a short peptide tag.
A legal investigation into Australian patenting practice was undertaken to resolve questions about the project’s patentability and the use of the covalent protein bonding mechanism. The work done showed that the project was probably not patentable, and that the covalent protein bonding mechanism was not patented in Australia. (Patents Act 1990 (Cth) s 18(1)) This changed the direction of our project by leading us towards the Foundational Advance track focusing on the scaffold’s modularity, and determining that we would use the Spy and Snoop Tag/Catchers as the bonding mechanism. It also led to the production of a policy submission writing guide for scientists, having seen the complexity of intellectual property law.
Education and Outreach
Informational presentations were given to a range of academics and faculty staff, and upper high-school students were introduced to key tertiary research techniques to inspire their engagement with synthetic biology. This experience led to the development of an educational package to help high school teachers adapt to a new state biology syllabus. The team also ran a Q&A panel on the “Challenges in the Australian Synthetic Biology Landscape” with several well-renown speakers from industry, academia and general research. The symposium attracted over 120 guests from our host university and beyond, with its influence extending beyond the event, as we published and distributed the recording on YouTube. Building on this, the team wrote and published an article about our project and the role of synthetic biology in a popular synthetic biology research blog based in Australia.