LEAP maintains strong connections with LEAP Fellow Alumni to understand the long- term impact of the program, including the plans they shaped through the fellowship.
The LEAP Fellow Alumni are an influential, collaborative and networked group of leaders across sectors and disciplines who reflect and act upon synthetic biology’s role in society. Fellows remain active participants in the LEAP program, acting as mentors, speakers, funders and connectors, as well as program advisors. Their efforts have catalyzed new initiatives that address a wide variety of needs and enable new communities to shape the future of biotechnology.
During the inaugural LEAP program, Fellows Sarah Munro, Patrick Boyle, Michal Galdzicki and Jeff Ubersax developed a vision for standards development as an effective way of ensuring the responsible development of the industry. NIST has since convened the Synthetic Biology Standard Consortium (SBSC), a multi-stakeholder consortium for development of standards for synthetic biology. Sarah Munro has taken on the role of leader of the California NIST team supporting the SBSC effort as part of the new Joint Initiative for Metrology in Biology (JIMB) at Stanford. JIMB unites people, platforms and projects to underpin standards-based research and innovation in biometrology. Many LEAP Fellows and mentors have been active participants in the SBSC’s working groups.
LEAP Alumnus John Cumbers founded SynBioBeta, which held its inaugural meeting during the fall of 2012, right after the inaugural LEAP program. SynBioBeta has since grown to be the leading community of entrepreneurs, investors, policy makers and enthusiasts devoted to the responsible growth of the synthetic biology field. Their international conferences and events bring this community together several times a year and have featured many LEAP Fellows and mentors.
Several LEAP Alumni Fellows have gone on to be selected as Emerging Leaders in Biosecurity Initiative (ELBI) fellows: Patrick Boyle, Nathan Hillson, Dan Grushkin and Anne Cheever. ELBI, a program run by the UPMC Center for Health Security and sponsored by the Open Philanthropy Foundation, competitively selects a yearly class of emerging leaders in biosecurity working across organizations in the US, UK, and Canada. The LEAP Fellows have become important bridges between biotechnology and security communities. The InterAcademy Partnership, a global network of Science Academies, also featured LEAP as an exemplary program in their 2015 report on advances in science and technology relevant to the biological weapons convention
LEAP Alumnus Ryan Ritterson joined Gryphon Scientific, which provides data-driven and scientific analysis for infectious disease, biosafety, biosecurity, and other global policy challenges. Ryan served as a lead analyst on the Risk and Benefit Analysis of Gain-of-Function Research commissioned by the US National Scientific Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), including developing a comprehensive quantitative framework for analyzing the biosafety risk of virological research. Ryan has since led and contributed to multiple projects related to safety, security and strategy in the development of advanced biotechnologies.
In her Strategic Action Plan, LEAP Alumnus Christina Agapakis described the need for diverse perspectives in exploring the role of biotechnology in the world. Christina has created many forums that advance new partnerships in biotechnology. She developed new models for interdisciplinary training at the Art Center College of Design and UCLA. She continues to write extensively on biology, technology and culture, and created a platform for others to share their stories through the founding of Method Quarterly, a magazine about science in the making. Christina joined Ginkgo Bioworks as their creative director, and has leveraged the position to catalyze projects that involve new stakeholders in the biotechnology industry. She has received much acclaim for her work, including being awarded a L’Oreal Women in Science fellowship and being named one of the 2016 Fast Company 100 Most Creative People in Business.
As head of Biodesign at Berkeley National Lab, LEAP Alumnus Nathan Hillson is the principal investigator of the Agile Biofoundry, a consortium of nine US national labs working towards reducing biomanufacturing commercialization timelines and costs. He is also contributing to commercial platforms that support the industry as founder and chief scientific officer of Teselagen. At the Joint Genomics Institute (JGI), Nathan spearheaded the institutionalization of a review process that covers the broader aspects and implications (e.g., biosafety, biosecurity, environmental, ethical, legal, social) of proposed synthetic biology projects, which has drawn on the expertise of LEAP Fellows and mentors. Recognized as a thought leader in the field, Nathan served on the committee of the National Academies study on the Industrialization of Biotechnology.
LEAP Alumnus Louise Horsfall collaborated on a LEAP Strategic Action Plan to enable an international synthetic biology society. After presenting their concept at SB6.0, Louise founded a new Bioprocessing and Bioengineering section within the European Federation of Biotechnology to represent those working at the boundary between biotechnology and engineering, and was elected co-chair. She received the University of Edinburgh’s 2015 Chancellor’s Rising Star Award and is a member of the EPSRC’s Early Career Forum in Manufacturing Research. Louise has leveraged her leadership role in the community to help inform scientific and policy agendas, such as organizing scientific input to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
LEAP Alumnus Marc Facciotti’s Strategic Action Plan described the need for new educational models for synthetic biology, including the integration of concepts of responsible innovation. Marc raised support to create a new BioInnovation Lab at the University of California, Davis, where Marc is an associate professor. Marc and colleague Andrew Yao have developed and co-taught new courses, some with other LEAP Fellows and mentors. They have helped students launch three start-up companies and advised the UC Davis iGEM teams, including the 2014 team, which won the Overgraduate Grand Prize and the Best Policy and Practices Award. They are now partnering with the UC Davis Freshman Seminars, giving first-year students access to experiences in responsible biotechnology.
LEAP Alumnus Karmella Haynes’s Strategic Action Plan described the development of platforms to stimulate and sustain data sharing to support the characterization of biological components and to enable the field and its trainees. Karmella received an award from Women and Philanthropy to support this work via the SB.ASU project at Arizona State University, where Karmella is an assistant professor. In collaboration with investigators of DNASU, a world-class repository for shared DNA materials, she launched the SB.ASU parts collection in 2017. Karmella has also led important efforts to support training in the field. She was a faculty co-founder of the Cold Spring Harbor Synthetic Biology Course, which is now entering its fifth year, and served as head judge of the iGEM competition. She has been recognized as a leader in the field, including being named a “Scientist to Watch” by The Scientist magazine and serving on the board of directors for the Engineering Biology Research Consortium (EBRC).
LEAP Alumnus Keith Tyo’s Strategic Action Plan focused on the role of biotechnology in solving global health challenges, and the need for a problem-focused approach. Keith went on to develop a research and educational program in this area as an assistant professor at Northwestern University, including establishing a certificate in Sustainability and Global Health Technologies within Northwestern’s Master of Science in Biotechnology program. Two classes have now visited Cape Town, South Africa to conduct a technoeconomic analysis of biotechnology strategies for mine waste remediation, sustainable fuels and tuberculosis diagnostics. The program was supported in part by a National Science Foundation CAREER grant awarded to Keith in 2015.
As a LEAP participant, Michael Fisher advocated for the intensification of efforts to creatively and productively engage with the public on synthetic biology and biotechnology. Just over a year later, Michael joined the STEM education faculty at Liberty Science Center (LSC) in Jersey City, New Jersey to focus full-time on science outreach. During his time at LSC, Michael designed and executed several high-school-level laboratory workshops emphasizing molecular biology experiments and computational protein design. Michael is now using synthetic biology tools to investigate parasitic disease at Rutgers–New Jersey Medical School, and has continued his public engagement efforts in collaboration with North Dover Elementary School’s STEAM DREAM project.
LEAP Alumnus Walter Valdivia is now a senior fellow at the Consortium for Science Policy and Outcomes (CSPO) and a non-resident fellow at Brookings. Working in the think tank world, he has focused on the practical dimensions of the governance of emerging technologies. Distilling the lessons from the last few decades of technological development, Valdivia and his co-author proposed a blueprint for responsible innovation. The blueprint provides useful lessons useful for developers and regulators of synthetic biology pursuing innovation of the innovation process itself, such as increasing demands for public participation and the distributed character of knowledge at the outer frontiers of science and engineering.
LEAP Alumnus Ellen Jorgenson’s Strategic Action Plan described developing platforms for DIY biolabs to develop resources for community engagement and education. As co-founder and director of Genspace, Ellen has continued to develop a haven for entrepreneurship, innovation and citizen science. Her efforts have been widely chronicled, including in Science, Wired, and The New York Times, and her TED Talks have received millions of views, making Genspace an inspiration for similar spaces worldwide. In 2014 Fast Company named Genspace one of the World’s Top 10 Innovative Companies in Education, and in 2016 Genspace was awarded a grant from the Simons Foundation to expand their programming.
In his Strategic Action Plan, LEAP Alumnus David Sun Kong laid out a vision for infrastructure to empower diverse communities around the world to participate in biotechnology. His “metafluidics” project, an open repository of fluidic tools for biotechnology, received funding through the Technology Office at MIT Lincoln Laboratory (www.metafluidics.org). As the founder and director of EMW—an art, technology, and community center in Cambridge, Massachusetts—David is also enabling communities to contribute creatively to biotechnology through his “Street Bio” program. This community recently competed in the iGEM competition, where David co-founded the Hardware Track. David is also the co-founder and managing faculty member of “How To Grow (Almost) Anything,” a distributed biotechnology course taught in maker spaces and community labs around the world. Many past and current LEAP Fellows serve as faculty.
In 2013 LEAP Alumnus Michal Galdzicki joined Arzeda, an industrial biotechnology company in Seattle, where he develops a software platform to enable engineering of novel biochemical pathways. In Seattle, Michal has become a leader in developing new spaces and projects aimed at fostering public engagement with biotechnology. He volunteers and teaches at SoundBio Lab, a new nonprofit DIYbio laboratory he co-founded to provide hands-on biotechnology workshops and projects for students of all ages. Among other projects, he leads the Citizen Salmon project, which is designing genotyping methods to find out where the salmon we eat were born. The project aims to seek a deeper knowledge of local food origins and provide the same opportunity for inquiry to the public.
LEAP Alumnus Ryan Morhard developed a Strategic Action Plan with the aim of ensuring protections against the misuse of new biotechnology and applying technological developments to strengthen preparedness and response to public health emergencies. This plan included recommendations to improve communications and coordination among the life sciences and policymaking communities. Ryan has since continued to leverage partnerships to strengthen global health security, both as Branch Chief for International Partnerships within the US Department of Health and Human Services and now at the World Economic Forum, where he serves as Project Lead for Global Health Security. In this role, Ryan develops and leads innovative, cross-industry and cross-sectorial public-private cooperation to manage risks associated with emerging infectious diseases of pandemic potential.
LEAP Alumnus Anne Cheever is a lead scientist at Booz Allen Hamilton, supporting the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the areas of biosecurity, emerging infectious diseases, and synthetic biology. Anne has leveraged knowledge gained and contacts made during the Fellowship to help inform programs aimed at safely advancing the field of genome editing for the Department of Defense. While a LEAP Fellow, she collaborated on a LEAP Strategic Action Plan to develop an international synthetic biology society. She leveraged those conversations and development process for international engagement on emerging technologies, including synthetic biology, during her time as a foreign affairs officer at the US Department of State. She is also a current fellow in the UPMC Center for Health Security’s Emerging Leaders in Biosecurity (ELBI) Fellowship program.
LEAP Alumnus Andrew Chang is now a patent agent and scientific advisor at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, a provider of legal services to technology, life sciences, and growth enterprises worldwide. Andrew works in patent and innovation strategies, which specializes in patent preparation and prosecution; patentability, patent validity, and freedom-to-operate analyses; and investor due diligence matters. Drawing from his PhD studies in chemistry and research in synthetic biology at Stanford, Andy focuses primarily in the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, chemical, food, healthcare, and medical device industries. Before leaving Stanford, Andrew co-founded a PhD-wide mentoring program to pair PhD students with Stanford PhD alumni and mentors. He also oversaw training of 150+ teaching assistants in Stanford’s department of chemistry, and volunteered with the San Jose Tech Museum.
As vice president of research and development (R&D) at Amyris, LEAP Alumnus Jeff Ubersax has been advancing the company’s scientific leadership in genome and protein engineering by combining advances in automation, biology and computing. He is the R&D representative on the collaborations development team where he plays a key role in translating how Amyris’s technology platform can both impact potential collaborators’ businesses and make the world a better place. Prior to this role, he led the high-throughput screening group where he helped build the automation and computational tools the group now depends on, including driving the development of platforms and methods to rapidly engineer yeast and other microbes.
LEAP Alumnus Patrick Boyle is now head of design at Ginkgo Bioworks. The design team is responsible for designing and optimizing genetic constructs for Ginkgo’s foundries. In 2017, these designs are expected to require hundreds of millions of base pairs of new DNA synthesis. As a continuation of his LEAP efforts, Patrick has been an active member of the NIST Synthetic Biology Standards Committee, and is working with synthesis companies on megabase-scale DNA ordering standards and application programming interfaces (APIs). Patrick is also involved in efforts to assess and recommend improved biosecurity measures for synthetic biology, including a 2013 fellowship in the Emerging Leaders in Biosecurity Initiative (ELBI), and membership in the 2017 National Academies Biodefense Synthetic Biology Committee.