Meet the researcher: Maciej Holowko
By Larissa Sherman
Maciej Holowko is fondly referred to as ‘Magic’ by the CSIRO BioFoundry team, and it’s not hard to see why.
Earlier in his career, Maciej developed the world’s first whole-cell seek-and-destroy biosensors that could kill cholera, the bacterial infection of the small intestine that affects thousands of people every year.
His research has seen him work in diverse fields. But there’s always been one thing in common – utilising technology for the benefit of society and to create commercial opportunities.
Today, Maciej is a synthetic biology stack developer. That means he uses machine learning technology to works on all levels of the CSIRO BioFoundry development – hardware, software and molecular biology. His work helps position Australia to play a role in one of the fastest growing areas of modern science – synthetic biology.
Synthetic biology is a multidisciplinary area of research that seeks to create new biological parts, devices and systems. It’s a rapidly expanding multi-billion-dollar industry with a broad base of applications. They include producing enzymes to degrade pollutants and developing novel products for medical applications. Additionally, the technology can play a role in engineering ecosystem resilience to climate change.
Introducing the CSIRO BioFoundry
The CSIRO BioFoundry has the capacity to revolutionise lab work as we know it.
It’s a state-of-the-art high-throughput bioengineering facility that lets scientists rapidly design, build and test new biotechnologies at a scale not possible before now. It can be used to quickly and reliably prototype new biotechnologies or answer complex biological questions. It can do this using technological advancement in robotics, data handling, sensors and automation.
The applications are endless
This is where Maciej gets excited. The applications of synthetic biology in our everyday lives are almost endless.
‘’Through synthetic biology we can find solutions for problems across sectors such as health, medicine, agriculture, and manufacturing,” Maciej said.
“The utilisation of automated processing that can be done in the CSIRO BioFoundry is revolutionising lab work as we know it. And this presents far reaching opportunities for business and industry.
“It’s exceptionally important work that can add value to the solutions the world is seeking. For example, in cruelty-free animal product alternatives, bioproduction of important chemicals and by replacing oil-derived products with sustainable ones made with biology,” he said.
Collaboration brings unseen outcomes for machine learning
In machine learning, it’s crucial to use high-quality, high-volume data sets. These are often challenging to source in biology as the prevailing practice is to undertake iterative, smaller experiments. Collating such data sets can be problematic due to experimental variability. However, the use of the CSIRO BioFoundry will lead to larger experiments with lower experimental variation. It’s a win-win for artificial intelligence and machine learning.
The collaboration between the Synthetic Biology and Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence Future Science Platforms means the CSIRO BioFoundry employs both machine learning and high-throughput laboratory methods. As a result, it enables a workflow for the creation of small genetic devices that can generate parts efficiently with all the necessary characteristics.
The innovations have already begun. Working with Data61 scientists, Maciej and the CSIRO BioFoundry team created a machine learning enabled workflow that allows more predictable protein production in bacterial fermentation. This enables more efficient design of bacterial strains that produce useful biochemicals like medicines, fragrances and food ingredients.
Maciej’s passion for his work is evident. And why wouldn’t it be? Working each day to position Australia in one of the fastest growing areas of modern science so that we can contribute to advances in healthcare, industrial biotechnology, biosecurity, agriculture and food research has its perks!
Learn more about the new CSIRO BioFoundry facility.