ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology

Synthetic Biology


1, Feb 2024

Synthetic biology rocks Woodford Festival

Synthetic biology researchers and associates joined a line-up of more than 2000 artists, musicians and presenters at the 2023/4 Woodford Folk Festival in Queensland.

Two panel discussions on synthetic biology and a hugely popular citizen science activity exposed the Centre’s work to an estimated 132,000 people.

‘The sessions couldn’t have gone better!’ says Associate Professor Amy Cain of Macquarie University, who curated the panel discussions. ‘They were packed to the brim with people curious to learn more about synbio.’

Dirt Girl World presenter Cate McQuillen hosted the first discussion on Synthetic Biology into the Future with panellists Professor Esteban Marcellin (University of Queensland), Dr Laura Navone (Eden Brew), Dr Alescia Cullen (Macquarie University) and Professor Rob Speight (CSIRO).

Synthetic Biology Rocks Woodford Festival

The speakers role-played what Woodford would look like in 30 year’s time, if the festival were powered by microbes, the food and drinks would be microbially produced and the whole event were completely carbon neutral.

‘At the end, Cate made everyone give the speakers “rock star cheers” and the tent roared,’ says A/Prof Cain. Dr Cullen, Dr Navone and Professor Marcellin returned to the stage with Rob Willows of HydGene for the second panel, co-hosted by science personality Dr Karl Kruszelnicki and Gardening Australia’s Costa Georgiadis.

‘Dr Karl gave an interesting and basic intro to synbio to set the scene while Costa urged the audience to be open minded about synbio as we’ve been playing with genetics in our garden for thousands of years,’ says A/Professor Cain.

Meanwhile, the Wild Yeast Zoo team led hundreds of citizen scientists on a quest to collect native yeast during the week-long festival, as well as leading and participating in discussions.

Wild Yeast Zoo at Woodford


Wild Yeast Zoo is a collaboration between the Centre’s University of Newcastle (UoN) and Macquarie University nodes. Collection kits are sent to people in the Hunter region to gather wild yeast from native flora for the team to refine, genotype it, log it then use it.

‘While we’re still in the initial stages of isolating yeast, we’ve already uncovered a substantial collection,’ says Claudia Holt, a PhD candidate UoN and Wild Yeast Zoo team member.

‘In the coming weeks, we’ll be running tests to unveil what these microorganisms actually are and what cool things they can do.’

Dr Chris Lean, a philosopher of science at Macquarie, says there’s immense interest in the value of Australia’s natural environment. ‘We were fortunate to be able to give attendees the means to discover a little more about our unique microscopic world,’ says Dr Lean.

Dr Ben Matthews, a Communication and Design Expert at UON, considers the Woodford trip a stunning public-engagement success.

‘The Wild Yeast Zoo is, itself, a wild mix of experts from very different backgrounds and a range of universities, so bringing us together in a scrum at Woodford was the perfect way to let the power of diversity shine,’ he says.

Wild Yeast Zoo at Woodford Festival


The event was supported by Inspiring NSW and QLD, and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology.

Photo Credit: Katherine Williams Photography