Earlier this month, for the third year we travelled to San Francisco with the UK delegation to SynBioBeta, a key conference for the synthetic biology or ‘engineering biology’ community. Here, we take a look back at some highlights of the trip – three days immersed in this burgeoning synthetic biology business and science community – and include a few links to find out more.

Supported by UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), this year the trade mission organisers and funders were SynbiCITE, the synthetic biology innovation and knowledge centre based at Imperial College London.

The 2015 UK delegation included BIA members SynbiCITE, Synthace, Synpromics, Touchlight Genetics and ZuvaSyntha, alongside Alcmene Bioworks, Bento Bioworks, BioVernier, Desktop Genetics, LabGenius, Nanocage Technologies, Skillfluence, and SynbiSTRAIN; more information on all the companies is included in the trade mission brochure. Also at the conference were staff from the Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology at the University of Edinburgh, and BIA member Ingenza.

Prior to the SynBioBeta conference the delegation was kindly hosted for visits to six local companies, including sink-or-swim start-up incubator Indie-Bio, sonic liquid handling systems company Labcyte, cell-free protein synthesis company Sutro Biopharma, and REG Life Sciences (whose interesting background is explained here). We also returned to two of last year’s hosts – DNA design and assembly platform TeselaGen, and robotic cloud laboratory provider Transcriptic.

Sessions and lightning talks from the two-day conference covered topics such as biodesign, open source biology, gene editing, automation and international policy, while workshops included ‘designing experiments for Cas9-mediated gene knockouts’, and ‘protocols for cloud-based biology’. In the inaugural ‘SynBioBetas’ awards it was great to see recognition for BIA Board member Lord David Willetts, who was named the Best UK Industry Enabler for his efforts supporting the UK synthetic biology sector in his former role as Minister for Universities and Science.

A notable and important change at the SynBioBeta conference this year was the increased level of interest in the UK companies, as evidenced by the numerous conversations and business leads generated around the UKTI lounge area. As well as continuing to see exciting new start-ups emerging (some of which have received a great deal of interest from potential collaborators), there are also signs that the UK synbio scene is maturing; just one example illustrating this is the recent announcement from Synthace and MSD on their collaboration to develop a biomanufacturing platform for a number of undisclosed molecules.

For a flavour of this year’s trade mission and conference we’ve included a selection of photos below and you can look back over the tweets using the hashtag #SBBSF15.

The next SynBioBeta conference, SynBioBeta London 2016 will take place at Imperial College London on 6-8 April 2016 and is accepting speaker applications now.

If you are interested to find out more about the synthetic biology industry and the application of engineering principles to tackle biological challenges, contact Zoë Freeman, Secretariat for the BIA’s Synthetic Biology Advisory Committee