ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology

Synthetic biology


20, Sep 2023

Taking synbio to the masses

If the public had not heard of synthetic biology before Science Week 2023, a decent swathe of the population is now familiar with the term and how it works.

Boosted by a coveted $20,000 Science Week grant, the ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology staged 12 events nationwide – all based around our bespoke card game Remediate!

A team of synthetic biologists within the Centre’s outreach team have taken science engagement to the next level by creating a game in which players choose a microbe as their character in the quest to break down plastic pollution in the environment.


To cap off a frantic few weeks, the Centre also sponsored and helped organised the National Science Quiz in Melbourne, featuring Macquarie University synthetic biologist Dr Paige Erpf on what turned out to be the winning team.

From industry forums in Morwell, community events in Mallacoota to pub nights in Sydney and Canberra to a week-long Science Trail exhibition at the Australian Museum, cards were dealt and conversations staged about the potential for synthetic biology to address a host of environmental and economic issues.  The Centre particularly targeted regional Australia to promote the job opportunities in co-locating industries close to the sources of agricultural waste needed as a feedstock in synthetic biology.

More than 50 volunteers, including some of our industry associates, turned out to host events in Mackay, Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Perth, Newcastle, Cessnock, Orange, Morwell, Mallacoota and Melbourne. A few unexpected opportunities arose – such as an invitation to stage a Remediate! event at the University of Sydney Open Day attended by about 40,000 people.

“It was a spectacular effort by the Centre staff and I’m indebted, particularly to the team behind Remediate!,” says Chief Operating Officer J-L Heylen who co-hosted the Morwell and Mallacoota events and was props supremo for the National Science Quiz.

“Every aspect of this game – from artwork to the videos that promoted it – were created by this talented group of scientists.”


Since Science Week, the Centre has established a working party to follow up on serious interest in synbio solutions from several Victorian towns.   Many Victorian towns are in economic transition, particularly those in Gippsland where the closure of native forestry several years ahead of schedule has left some communities reeling. This was one of the main reasons that we targeted Gippsland for this event.  Individual scientists are also assisting with exploratory research on the possibilities for seafood waste in Mallacoota, Victoria.

Conversations from a networking night in Orange are also hoped to lead to research partnerships.

Plans for the next steps for Remediate! include a children’s memory game, a children’s books series, and possible emergence of a STEM outreach social enterprise.

The events have been invaluable in strengthening relationships with school teachers. Upon request from teachers met during the Sydney Science Trail sessions, we plan to work further on lesson support material and curriculum depth studies using Remediate!. Talks are also underway to offer student internships to regional students interested in learning more about synthetic biology through a short-term placement in one of our labs.

Schools, members of the public, science groups and industry have all put their names down for the Remediate! card game. Feedback from the events will inform the next iteration of the game.

For more information on the Remediate, see the website.