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Beneficial Bio: ensuring the future of biomanufacturing is for the many and not the few

Beneficial Bio was founded in July 2019 by Dr Jenny Molloy (Executive Director) and Cesar Gomez (Operations Director) in response to problems frequently encountered by resource-limited labs throughout the world. These include inadequate supply chains, the patenting and protecting of new technologies and lack of researcher autonomy, all of which contribute to reduced participation in the bioeconomy. To combat this, we aim to establish new centres for the provision of molecular biology reagents and services, focusing in Africa and Latin America. In this article, we take a look at some of the highlights since our company began.

  Scientists working in the Cameroon node
Scientists working in the Cameroon node. From left to right: Stephane Fadanka, Lenshina Agbor and Francisco Quero.

A huge achievement in the past year has been the establishment of an enzyme manufacturing centre in Cameroon, with partners Mboalab Biotech. At Mboalab Biotech, the optimisation of key molecular biology supplies like DNA polymerases, restriction enzymes and cloning kits are being carried out under the watchful eye of Research Manager Stephane Fadanka and Quality Manager Nadine Mowoh to prepare them for local product release. Substantial progress has also been made in the design of DIY equipment kits to aid the manufacturing process, including a shaker incubator, desiccator and vacuum chamber. New reagents and equipment will be available for purchase in the near future.

A DIY shaker incubator and vacuum chamber
A DIY shaker incubator and vacuum chamber.

Ongoing projects in Cameroon are supported by research and development at Open Bioeconomy Lab, The University of Cambridge. Recent achievements have included the establishment of the Open Enzyme Collection, an assortment of 84 enzyme DNA sequences that are codon-optimised for expression in E. coli and were synthesised by the Free Genes project at the BioBricks Foundation and Stanford University. These sequences represent key enzymes used in molecular biology processes such as PCR, restriction enzyme-based cloning, Golden Gate DNA assembly and reverse transcription. We are currently using this resource to manufacture products and train other researchers in how to produce their own enzymes, allowing them to cut reagent costs and avoid supply chain issues.

Another exciting advancement, driven by our Science Director Chiara Gandini through a collaboration between Open Bioeconomy Lab, Beneficial Bio and Biomakespace, was the development of a low-cost, customisable bioreactor for bacterial cell growth. Designed with accessibility in mind, both the assembly plans and software used to operate the bioreactor will be made open source, meaning that researchers can assemble their own bioreactors and edit the program code for maximum customisation. This plan reflects our vision that openness is a promising strategy for enabling researchers throughout the world to access the tools they need to do their best science.

Although our research and development efforts are currently concentrated in Cameroon and Cambridge, we are looking to scale to other parts of Africa. Early in 2020, Sam Witham performed market research and ran teaching courses (including a low-cost enzyme production masterclass and introduction to bioinformatics course) in Ghana with collaborators at Kumasi Hive and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. Our online presence is also on the rise, due in part to successful researcher engagement on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. As a result, @Beneficial Bio now has over 4,500 Twitter followers, with reposts occurring across 6 continents.

a bioinformatics workshop in Ghana
Sam Witham with students during a bioinformatics workshop in Ghana.

What next for Beneficial Bio? In the coming year, new, locally made enzyme products and equipment kits will be brought to market in Cameroon. Following the success of teaching courses in Ghana, we will also be scaling efforts to train researchers in molecular biology techniques and new methods such as Type IIS DNA Assembly and CRISPR-based diagnostics and biosensing. These developments will begin in Cameroon, with hopes to expand both teaching courses and our manufacturing and sales operations into other countries, such as Ghana, Nigeria and Ethiopia. Going forward, Beneficial Bio will transform the experience of researchers in resource-limited labs across the globe, enabling them to acquire reagents quickly and economically, and catalysing the research and innovation productivity that is needed to underpin emerging bioeconomies.

Stay tuned for further updates!