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@kahlilKahlil Corazo | iGEM 2021 – Team Friendzymes | Book:

My pandemic project was As everyone knows by now, we need to sequence the genetic code of pathogens like SARS-CoV-2 to identify and track their most dangerous variants. In the first months of the pandemic, most developing countries did not have the capacity to sequence the virus.

We built a global team of volunteers, raised some funding from Just One Giant Lab, got donations from suppliers, and organized online training for our partner lab, PGC Mindanao. 10 months after we started, that lab made history: the first sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 enabled by volunteers, and the first on-site sequencing of any organism in Mindanao, Philippines.

I shared my project management lessons learned in this webinar. At the time of writing, we are interviewing labs in Africa and Latin America to see how we can best share what we learned from enabling a rural lab in a developing country to start sequencing.

On the positive side, I was surprised and inspired by all the help we got from the global genomics and open science communities.

On the negative side, I was surprised by what turned out to be the biggest threat to the project. It was not the difficulty of learning sequencing (turned out to be easy for experienced wet lab folks) or getting funding (hard but not impossible). What almost killed the project was the supply chain. Sequencing reagents need to be imported from the US or Europe. This makes them expensive for a lab in the global south. On top of that, we learned that you need to add 30% to 100% to pay gate-keepers, both legal and corrupt ones.

Since we grew up with open-source alternatives, we naturally asked if there are open-source versions of the reagents—affordable ones that allow us to bypass gate-keepers. Not yet, it turns out, but it looks like we are almost there. The answer lies in synthetic biology, a field that is at the cusp of its own open-source revolution.

What is synthetic biology and how will it make our lives better?

Every material we value is made of atoms strung together to make molecules. Back in our chemistry lab classes, we strung together atoms through simple chemical reactions, resulting in products with characteristics different from their reactants.

There are some valuable materials that are too complex to be made in a chemistry lab, but which we take for granted as products of living organisms. For instance, the food we eat,…

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