PLOS synbio says farewell
This is the last PLOS synbio post. Since July 2014, when the dedicated community blog on synthetic biology was launched, till the end of December 2019, PLOS synbio was one of the prominent voices in the synthetic biology community. But as PLOS will restructure its blogs, the community blogs will need to discontinue.
I was the community editor of PLOS synbio since early 2017. I enjoyed the experience and I really appreciate the opportunity to share with the community news and views on the field of synthetic biology. I am really proud of the direction the blog has taken, the diversity of the contributors, the breadth of topics… We featured pieces on research, entrepreneurship, bioart, and even on science communications and branding.
I joined the PLOS synbio family as a contributor and then as a Community Editor. This role helped me get a better and clearer view of my own research field, interact with wonderful individuals from various backgrounds, and share my thoughts with all of you. I know that this blog meant a lot for the former community editors, so I invited them to share a few thoughts about their experience.
It has been so wonderful to see how the PLOS Synbio community blog has grown and expanded over the past few years. The position of community editor for PLOS Synbiocame at a very important transitionary time in my life – I had just completed my undergraduate in Chemical Engineering and was spending time in Paris with the Paris Bettencourt iGEM team, while attempting to find projects that inspired me. Through this position, I had the opportunity to interact with start-up founders, experts on design and biology, biohackspace creators, attend conferences; all of this, ultimately, led me to realise that I am excited by scientific research and motivated me to pursue a PhD (which, incidentally, I finished this past month)! While there were many other moving parts in my life during the time I was community editor, this blog was an important forum for me to delve into the rich synthetic biology community as well as explore ideas on the periphery of the community. I am very thankful for the opportunity I had and will always cherish that wholly uncertain and exploratory time in my life!
I am very grateful for the privilege of editing the PLOS Synbio Community between 2015-16. For me, the best part was getting to talk to and work with lab and social scientists as well as artists. I particularly enjoyed learning about the wider impacts of science, for example when I worked with Brigitte Nerlich and Carmen McLeod on the importance of language surrounding efforts to combat the Zika virus, and was delighted to be able to raise awareness of Plant Synthetic Biology, a still developing field, both within the plant science and synthetic biology communities.
But most important was hearing from the synbio community, the highlight of which was gathering perspectives on the biggest developments for a Review of 2015. It was a stellar year: humanized yeast, immunosafe organs from pigs, engineering the microbiome, opioid synthesis in yeast and more – I still get excited reading about it. However, what really stood out was the wave of advances in CRISPR gene editing. In light of widely condemned work of He Jiankui, to create the first gene edited babies in 2018, I am left with the prophetic words submitted by Khalid K. Alam: “Although the technology is now available to edit human genomes, it raises serious ethical concerns about responsible use of the technology. It also brings awareness to the field of synthetic biology and challenges us to proactively engage the public to shape , rather than stifle, scientific progress.” For me, this demonstrates the importance of the PLOS Synbio Community and similar efforts: they are spaces outside the peer review publishing system where wet lab and social scientists, policy makers and interested individuals can come together to raise awareness and engage with important issues. Things are improving, but they could be better, and with more efforts like PLOS Synbio Community blogs, we may avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
I am deeply saddened to hear that PLOS will discontinue the community blogs. Being Community Editor of the blog for about a year meant so much to me. I enjoyed writing about the latest research in the field, but what I liked most was to get to interview leaders in the field (both from academia and industry). Among the people I contacted, I was very lucky to interview Prof Arnold just about a year before she won the Nobel prize. This interaction with leaders in the field was fundamental for bringing a fresh perspective on the field of synthetic biology to our audience, but it also allowed me to expand my personal network of peers. So much so that I was invited to participate in conferences such as Biofabricate and the BioWorldCongress on Industrial Biotechnology to report on the events as a ‘media’ person. What a fantastic opportunity for growth!
I wrote and edited for the PLOS Synbio blog for two years during my PhD, and it was one of my most rewarding experiences during graduate school. It pushed me to read broadly about synthetic biology beyond my own specific research area and to engage with others in the synthetic biology community. By writing about research in a blog format, I was also able to exercise my communication skills in a completely different way than academic writing. Of course the goal of blogging was to help the reader understand what’s happening in synthetic biology, so hopefully my writing helped to inform readers in addition to furthering my own development. I know I benefited as a reader of the blog before and after my involvement as an editor. While the PLOS Community Blogs are ending, I would encourage researchers – especially early career researchers – to find outlets to read and write blog posts about research they find interesting.
This blog may be discontinuing, but there are several outlets to spread the synthetic biology news. I think a main characteristic of synthetic biology lies in this sense of community, so I urge you all to actively participate in the various synthetic biology associations and initiatives: you will develop your skills and you will meet great people. Especially to the early career researchers: do yourselves a favor and spend some work time outside the lab!
On this note, and on behalf of the PLOS synbio community, I must say my goodbyes as a Community Editor. It was my pleasure to serve you, and I aim to continue doing so through other means and outlets.
P.S. The blog will not disappear. There will be social media updates on where the archives can be found.