July 14-15, 2015 • New York Genome Center

Engineering Biology for Science and Industry: On the Promise and Challenges of Engineering Biology

Hosted by: Nancy J Kelley + Associates and The Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars


We are living through a revolutionary transition. Technological advances being made in the field of engineering biology, also known as synthetic biology, continue to open up new possibilities across diverse industries, such as healthcare, agriculture, chemicals, materials, energy and bioremediation. Engineering biology has become a part of this nation’s innovation narrative, offering solutions to numerous, pressing human needs and global challenges that didn’t seem possible just 10 years ago. This emerging field is still in an early stage of development, presenting the community with a unique opportunity to direct its growth in a coordinated manner.

On April 17th, 2015, emerging and established leaders in engineering biology came together at the Alfred P Sloan Foundation in New York City to lay the groundwork for accelerating progress in this important field. The success of such an endeavor lies in the ability of the public, private, philanthropic and academic sectors to work together to mobilize the resources the community needs to realize its potential. To build on the momentum established at this highly successful meeting and to identify concrete next steps, Nancy J Kelley + Associates and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars hosted a follow-on planning meeting on July 14th and 15th, 2015, at the New York Genome Center (NYGC), just prior to the SC2.0 & Synthetic Genomes conference. Together, these two meetings attracted more than 200 engineering biology experts from eight countries.

The NYGC, once considered a Grand Challenge for the city of New York, served as a highly symbolic and inspirational venue for these meetings. The NYGC began with nothing more than an idea amongst a small group of stakeholders who wanted to realize the vision. We believe that a similar process and opportunity exists for engineering biology.

The focus of this follow-on meeting was to plan on how to organize the community in order to engage the current and next administrations as well as garner financial resources for future growth and development. Large pools of federal funding ($50 to $170 million over five years) have been identified that present potential opportunities for the support of engineering biology in the event the community can organize itself to apply. Other programs of support have also been identified that can support policy development, public engagement and ethical and security issues. It is critical for the community to begin road-mapping activities in order to be ready to take advantage of these opportunities and to work with a new administration after the next election cycle.

A number of panel discussions were held throughout the two days. Although not every perspective on every topic discussed could be captured, the most common themes discussed are represented in the executive summary.

These conferences were an outgrowth of a one-year sustainability initiative led by Nancy J Kelley + Associates (co-funded by Synberc and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation). The purpose of the initiative was to develop a strategic action plan to advance the field of engineering biology in the U.S.