New Group Gives Synthetic Biology a LeAP Ahead

Achievement date: 

The Synthetic Biology Leadership Accelerator Program (SynBio LeAP), launched at an October 2012 workshop, is a new group dedicated to developing strategies to advance synthetic biology across diverse organizations and aims. LeAP is cosponsored by the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC), a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded center headquartered at the University of California at Berkeley; NSF; the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Synthetic Biology Project; and, the BioBricks Foundation.


Twenty emerging leaders in synthetic biology participated in the LeAP workshop. Working with professional facilitators, they developed individual and team-based action plans to address the technical and social challenges that face synthetic biology. White papers summarizing the results were publicized in early 2013 to take LeAP’s objectives to the next step.


Workshop participants were selected from over 100 applicants who submitted their top challenges and opportunities for how best to develop the field in the public interest. They represented a variety of sectors (university, industry, national labs, think tanks, government, amateur/DIY), disciplines (biosciences, engineering, social sciences, law), and career stages (senior graduate students to new group leaders), yet shared a common goal: to help orient and organize activities across the synthetic biology community to create a better biotechnology future.

LeAPers spent an intense week working together to develop strategic plans to advance the field. They were guided through lessons and hands-on exercises designed to build core leadership skills—including identifying needs, creative problem solving, communication, and strategic planning—and then given the opportunity to apply these skills as they developed their ideas for positively advancing the field. As one participant later noted, LeAP provided “time to think and to plan a strategy which can direct my research toward the public benefit by embracing responsibility as a leader.”

Megan Palmer, director of the workshop, noted that, "The network of people working in synthetic biology is increasingly diverse and distributed, and we are ever more challenged by how to orient and organize our efforts to deliver meaningful public goods. To best advance synthetic biology, we need leaders and strategies for effectively engaging across academic, industry, government, public-benefit, and wider public contexts."