Centre for Engineering Biology

You can’t beat the benefits of a face-to-face

The benefits of meeting personally

March 1, 2016 

The value of seeing the ‘whites of the eyes’ of a potential collaborator really hit home over the past week when I went to the US with the Rosser Lab to visit three synthetic biology labs.

I was recently employed in Edinburgh as the resident metabolomics specialist. After speaking to several potential users of the facilities here, I quickly realised some of the analyses required would need a lot of work-up. So it made sense to connect with some of the experts in the field to learn from best practice.

Our first stop was the Joint Bioenergy Institute (JBEI) in San Francisco and then we flew back east to Boston to visit The Broad Institute and Ginkgo BioWorks. We wanted to gain first hand insight into how the groups run their facilities – the instrumentation, the personnel and their approach to synthetic biology as a whole.

Walking and talking experimental workflows in these labs provided many useful nuggets of information – experimental tips and tricks, and ways to trouble shoot analytical anomalies. Alone these insights have probably saved me months of method development. I doubt a chat on Skype with someone I’d never met before would have been so enlightening. All the groups were remarkably open and willing to share their expertise and experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Our whirlwind tour opened my eyes to the scale of what can be achieved, sometimes with just limited resources. Even if we don’t work on the scale of bespoke automation at Ginkgo (who incidentally started out with the most miniscule budget) the big picture is entirely apposite and inspiring. Travel and exposure to different attitudes opens the mind. Having met the relevant people in the flesh, I now feel I can contact them anytime. Cementing relationships with these groups has served to gain a trust, and consequently a willingness, for knowledge transfer and potential future collaborations. I will look forward in turn to sharing my experiences in setting up and running a metabolomics lab with others in the community looking for advice and support.


Dr Hannah Florance, Metabolomics Specialist, Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology