The commercial realization

To commercially realize our genetically engineered probiotics, we have to think about alot of things for example how would we deal with such things as patents? In order to initiate a discussion we had to get in contact with an expert concerning patents within the field of synthetic biology.

Although we soon realized that we also lacked knowledge about how to go from working within the academia to actually producing a product on an industrial scale. Therefore we contacted Sven Lindgren, one of the key figures in the foundation of Biogaia, one of the world leading probiotics companies. Aside from the establishment of Biogaia, Sven has also worked for the European Union and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) council where he worked as an expert discussing questions related to foodstuffs. Other than that Sven previously worked for Food and Agriculture organization (FAO) and the World Health Organizations CODEX committee.

Should we patent BioBricks? An ethical discussion.

Biobricks and standard parts is the foundation of synthetic biology and iGEM. The foundation of the registry of standard biological parts is the open community for biological engineers and other scientists.

Would taking a patent on a biobrick go against all the principles of the registry? Is it ethicaly right to take biobricks from the registry and use them as a mean of financial income? We thought these were important questions and therefore we began a discussion within our team.

To be able to protect our ideas we need consider how we could theoretically utilize patents. If we for example spend a lot of money and effort into creating a new genetically engineered probiotic bacteria for a specific purpose, it would be easy for someone else to extract the bacteria from our yoghurt and use it in their own products.

First we discussed about patenting our biobricks and genes. The general conclusion was that biobricks and standard parts should be usable in all sorts of applications, either through a commercial perspective or for personal research purposes. If we would patent our biobricks, it would be hard for other people to use our standard parts. They would have to pay us or ask us permission to use them in their research or applications. We believe that this would instead act as a threat against the idea of a free library with standard parts.

A biobrick is something very fundamental to us, something that we believe should be protected from all restrictions and patents. It is like a nail or the wheel. Something that everyone can use to create whatever they want, for whatever purpose. We theorize that one could even sell the registry biobricks if they want to.

So, in the end, to create a working business without having to apply restrictions in the use of biobricks we have to find a different solution. One that still emphasizes on biobricks and standard parts that can be used as creative tools for new inventions.

We then ask ourselves, is it right to use biobricks that other people have made to create new inventions as a financial income?

Patents and synthetic biology

We decided to find an expert on patents of synthetic biology, since we had little knowledge of patents to begin with. We contacted Gustav Johansson a master student in entrepreneurship and business development within the field of biomedicin at Sahlgrenska Academy. We explained our project to Gustav and asked how one could approach this patenting issue.

Gustav explained that there is a couple of requirements that needs to be fulfilled for the patent to be approved. The most interesting in our case is that it needs to be sufficiently explained for an expert to understand its practical use in industry. For example a genetic sequence or the ability to produce a protein is not in itself patentable, but need to be further explained how to assimilate it industry.

To assimilate it in industry it needs to have technological characteristics, technological effect and be reproducable. Technological characteristics means that it has to be an object/product or a way to produce something. Technological effect means that it should have a technological function and solve a problem.

Therefore we can conclude that the patents will concern the product and not the genes. If the function of each part was known before, then it would be almost impossible to patent each part. Instead you could patent the series of parts that you connected. One example of a patent would be “Production of Zeaxantin and Resveratrol used for supplementary in food by geneticaly modified Lactobacillus”

Conclusion on patents

So with this new knowledge, we continued our discussions on patents. We could still use our biobricks, and make a patented product. The biobricks we use in our application could still be used by scientists and researchers for making new genetical constructs.

For example, we could patent the actual application and method of making a nutritous yoghurt with this modified bacteria. It would not be the enzyme X that produces Y that would be the patented product, it would rather be the actual combination of a bacteria that produces this metabolite in a yoghurt or a soy-sauce.

So in the end we can conclude that we should always promote the free use of biobricks and the usage of them. But to aquire their full potential, biobricks should be available for use in commercial applications.

Sven Lindgren a key figure in devolopment of probiotic products

To aquire inspiration on how to go from science and theory to a finished product that can be used in daily life we hosted a meeting with Sven Lindgren. Sven Lindgren is a professor at the Swedish National Food Administration. In the 1980s he studied alot of probiotic bacteria to in order explore their effects on our health. He found alot of interesting characteristics in the bacterium Lactobacillus reuteri. It was from this research that one of the world leading probiotic companies was created, Biogaia.[1]

Sven Lindgren was the perfect person to give us inspirations on how to continue with our project after the creation of our genetically modified probiotics. He gave us a presentation where he talked about his journey as a scientist, from basic research reasearch to the step where his bacteria would become a commercial application. He also gave us a lot of insight of how a process such as working within the academia to end up with a product that could be produced on an industrial scale could look like.