Nadine Bongaerts

Synthetic Biology

Nadine Bongaerts | Digital & Synthetic Biology

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Global Grand Challenges

Technologies based on engineered living systems radically change the way we manufacture materials, feed and cure ourselves. Those who control life, control the future. Synthetic biology holds the key to making technology that is compatible with nature and forces us to rethink the relationship of nature and technology. The digital revolution has enabled a biological revolution that is accelerating faster than ever. Breakthroughs in reading, writing and editing DNA offer new solutions for the production of cleaner energy, smarter drugs or plants that survive in difficult climates.

Topics & Presentations

What is synthetic biology? Applications for different sectors depending on the audience.

  • Production of chemicals
  • Biofuels
  • Medicine
  • Materials
  • Healthcare
  • Engineering immune cells to recognize cancer
  • Engineering pig organs to make them compatible for humans
  • Engineering Life
  • CRISPR / Cas9
  • Building cells from scratch
  • Bringing organisms to life that are extinct: e.g. the mammoth
  • Engineering Ecosystems
  • Gene Drives to eradicate invasive species and insects that spread diseases like Zika (e.g. rats / mosquitos)
  • Data Storage in DNA

Problem

  • It is expected that 10 million people will die every year by 2050 as a result of resistant bacteria.
  • Not enough new antibiotics are currently in the pipeline to solve this problem.

Solution

Synthetic Biology can help to solve this problem by:

  • New methods that were not possible without synbio to speed up the finding of new drugs for pathogenic bacteria, with a focus on tuberculosis (what I am working on).
  • Engineering bacterial viruses to only kill specific bacteria.
  • Faster detection of resistant bacteria in the environment and in patients.

Genetically engineered humans / CRISPR babies: How far should we go?

Biography

Dr. ir. Nadine Bongaerts graduated summa cum laude from her Ph.D. in synthetic biology that she completed at the National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM) and CRI in Paris. During her thesis research, she developed faster and cheaper methods based on the genetic modification of bacteria to find new antibiotics against tuberculosis. She previously obtained her bachelors and masters degree from Delft University of Technology and Leiden University.

Her interest for synthetic biology (or engineering biology) was sparked when in 2010 she participated in the iGEM (Internationally Engineered Machine) competition organized at the MIT. The TU Delft team she was part of developed standardized parts of DNA – biobricks – to transform bacteria into oil digesting cells. Their work was recognized both nationally and internationally and received several awards.

During iGEM, Bongaerts began to realize the gap between scientific advances in biotechnology and the importance to improve the public awareness about those developments. Together with fellow student Eva Brinkman she decided to work on bridging that gap by co-founding communication and education agency Science Matters in 2011. At the moment, Science Matters works for leading universities to provide communication training for scientists and develops education to inform and enthuse both children and adults about life sciences.

Her passion for teaching science goes back before she founded Science Matters. Nadine started teaching at the age 16 when she taught biology, physics and chemistry classes at high school Luzac College in the Netherlands. Later, she gave guest lectures on Synthetic Biology at the Royal Art Academy in The Hague, assisted the course for Synthetic Biology at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Paris and has mentored the iGEM Bettencourt student team in 2016.

Bongaerts is also active in the science-startup scene. In 2012, she became the Dutch chairman of the Kairos Society, a global community to connect innovative young entrepreneurs. More recently, she was appointed as Vice President of Hello Tomorrow, a Paris-based non-profit organization that helps science entrepreneurs in their journey to bringing laboratory inventions to the market. Since 2015, more than 15k science startups have applied to their startup challenges and Hello Tomorrow finalist startups have already raised more than $300M.

Overall, Dr. Bongaerts is a true connector between science, society and business and frequently asked to provide her insights on the societal and industrial implications of advances in biotechnology.

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