Open Insulin France Founded

5 min read

Over the past year and a half, two alumni of our Oakland and Baltimore chapters, Louise Lassalle and Yann Huon de Kermadec, have been working to establish a French chapter of the Open Insulin Foundation. (See the official announcement.) Here is their account of the process:

We started to look for a laboratory space to be able to do experiments for the project. We wanted to be hosted by La Paillasse, the biggest biohacker space in Europe, and use the OSF fund to pay for the membership and the laboratory fee. Unfortunately, because of the covid crisis, they closed. We looked at other hackerspace that could host us but so far without success. 

In the meantime, we decided to tackle projects that won’t require wet lab access. We are still looking out for a space, and increasing our network to find more opportunities.

As a reminder, the OIF mission is to develop and create the tools to produce and purify insulin and to make them open source in order to nurture the creation of more insulin manufacturing places in the world. Insulin production is typically done by engineering microbes, either bacteria or yeast, and systems involving both organisms are under development by Open Insulin. 

During the project, we ordered two common commercial yeast strains used for protein expression in manufacturing settings, but questions arose about our ability to incorporate them in open source work. To eliminate these kinds of questions in the future, we looked for sources for an unencumbered strain.

There are thousands of institutions providing strains, called biological resources (BR). It goes from small cell banks from university to massive non profits funded by consortia. To our knowledge, all the existing BR have limitations not compatible with the OIF mission. Some of them are exclusively for research applications, and most of them include derivative strains for the non-sharing clause. We couldn’t identify an entity who can provide strains under an agreement that will enable us to freely share the strains and enable commercial and peer to peer exchange of the strains and their derivatives.

We were able to identify a legal framework that aligned with OIF missions. The OpenMTA framework developed by the Biobricks Foundation is a material transfer agreement which allows commercial application and sharing to third-parties. 

We decided that we will create a biological resource. We already identify the legal framework to share the strains. The next step was to isolate strains of interest free of any intellectual property claims. For this, we decided to take samples (leaf, fruit, wood) from private land and get an agreement with owners to get the right to take a sample and isolate strains. The goal is to find Pichia pastoris strains or other strains that can produce protein.

To briefly describe the process, each sample is hydrated with a solution with sterile water and the antibiotic kanamycin and spread on a plate. After a few days, we were able to identify colonies of micro-organisms and found some that look like yeast. To confirm it, we did a DNA extraction and ran a PCR to identify part of the genome characteristic of this strain. We have preliminary results indicating that we isolated Pichia pastoris.

To develop our own BR, we will need to buy the material needed to isolate strains and an ultra-cold freezer (-80) to store them. We also will need to buy material to be able to ship them. In all, we isolated 6 new strains, with 3 suspected to be pichia pastoris.

Meanwhile, the creation of the Open Insulin Foundation France was used to communicate about the Open Insulin Foundation mission and the creation of the biological resource will be used to highlight the problematic that OIFF faces.

We were surprised how difficult it was to find strains with an agreement that fit our missions and purposes. We didn’t expect to have to create our own tool for this part of the project.

The creation of a biological resource and the protocol to isolate and identify strains can be reproduced easily. We plan to share widely how easy it was for us to identify the strains of interest and the protocol to identify and characterize strains. 

In the future, we would like to strengthen OIFF structure by increasing our visibility and partnership with the French diabetes and open source community. In order to expand our projects, we plan to apply for public funding. The main goal is to have funds to have a full-time scientist working for OIFF.