We’ll Use a Teeny Tiny Lasso: Building an Infrastructure for the Domestication of Microorganisms

Sarah Richardson

Only two microbes are practically available to nonprofit researchers as platforms for genetic modification, a restriction that has profoundly delayed the progress of synthetic biology. A tiny fraction of interesting microbes has genetic toolkits—and though it is possible to build toolkits, current incentive structures in research and biotechnology seem to preclude the involvement of academic scientists or the disclosure of methods or strains by industrial scientists. A serious investment must be made to establish an infrastructure for the creation of new, manipulable strains of non-model microbes. I propose a high- throughput characterization and domestication pipeline for bacteria and an open database to capture, organize, and present the cultivation and manipulability of data so gathered. This pipeline would operate as a user facility, building toolkits and protocols for new and diverse domesticates with all of the genetic flexibility engineers have come to expect from E. coli, but with a much broader range of applications.


Precise information about prokaryotic husbandry is currently the sorry preserve of oral history and undigitized literature. We built a crowd-sourceable strain manipulation, relation, and cultivation database— SMRC. This exhaustive interrogation of phenotype—a type of search available nowhere else—should become the standard by which all microbe characterization is measured. In this iPhone age, if your software doesn’t have a pretty, flexible interface, nobody will use it, let alone make it a crowdsourced powerhouse. This catalyst grant gives us a way to provide a user interface that will get the ball rolling on adoption and data collection.