Building an open and sustainable bioeconomy
The goal of this project is to explore an open framework for an equitable bioeconomy.
Biotechnology promises a compelling future of better healthcare and medicine, more sustainable food production, and cleaner sources of energy. However, the closed, proprietary nature of the emerging bioeconomy has a significant design fault: it excludes vast numbers of researchers from the Global South by limiting their access to the basic tools of biotechnology.
Jenny is addressing the urgent need for an alternative with the Open Bioeconomy Lab. She is creating open materials and tools while fixing bottlenecks in the supply chain to unleash biotechnology’s untapped potential for the public good. Her work empowers researchers with the freedom to experiment and enables scientists, community labs, and startups to participate, innovate, and turn conceptual aspirations into real-world solutions.
Jenny became a fellow in 2018 with an enticing hypothesis of an open, more equitable bioeconomy. Her big vision for the Open Bioeconomy Lab was both vast in scope and ambition, tackling a number of complex but pivotal issues and a multitude of interconnected pathways and mechanisms.
Communities in the Global South are decoupled from the practice of biotechnology by a combination of barriers including patent protection, throttled supply chains, and a lack of autonomy. Importantly, this is not purely about cost: even well-funded labs struggle to get the basic tools they need to experiment. After a year of exploring these issues through qualitative and quantitative research, Jenny began addressing the constraints - and injustices - by synthesising an open toolkit of off-patent enzymes and making them available at zero cost with no commercial or redistribution restrictions.
Jenny also established Beneficial Bio as a network of biologist-led businesses working together to soothe logistics headaches in underserved communities. With primary research partners in Cameroon and Ghana, the idea is to manufacture and distribute quality-assured toolkits locally while developing capacity to expand its network further into Africa, Asia and South America.
Another important aspect of Jenny’s fellowship has been her ability to influence policymakers to build openness into their innovation policies. Not only has she laid the foundations for a mini-economy in practical terms, but her expertise is in great demand from government panels, the United Nations and the World Economic Forum. The pandemic has really brought her foresightful thinking to the attention of global decision makers, and she is capitalising on a growing wave of enthusiasm to fix the global supply chain issues and unshackle molecular biologists to advance science and increase innovation.
Jenny on the Fellowship:
“Everybody in this community, no matter how busy they are, will help out another fellow. That level of generosity and giving is difficult to find elsewhere.
“I am greatly sad to be leaving the most flexible and supportive funding scheme in the world. It’s so rare to have that level of agility and hands-on support and I have huge amounts of gratitude.”