Dr. Jenny Molloy is director of the Open Bioeconomy Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, UK. Her research group addresses a lack of access to research tools in low-resource countries. She is passionate about enabling more people to shape the future of biotechnology. To realize her vision, she focuses on building open source biotechnology tools for molecular biology research (e.g. OpenPlant). Jenny also promotes open source as a feasible model for biotechnology businesses. She facilitates collaboration in science and helped develop tools for transferring know-how and materials between researchers around the globe.
In her curation week, Jenny wants to show us great research innovations in molecular biology by scientists in the global South. She will also talk about the hurdles these researchers encounter due to insufficient access to laboratory materials. This limited availability of basic tools affects not just the pace of their research, but also topics they can address. Jenny thinks that open source materials could help fix this inequality, but making ‘open source’ work for hardware and biology is much more complicated than it is for software.
Jenny will also discuss how biotechnology entrepreneurship is currently very focused on patents, rather than open exchange. She will show how a more open and collaborative approach to intellectual property may be beneficial for particular types of businesses. Jenny also has ideas about how we can figure out which business models work best with open exchange of knowledge.
Jenny grew up in Staffordshire in the UK. She initially wanted to be a writer, but started to consider a career in science during her teens when she got some lab experience in a lettuce packaging plant. She told us that the microbiology was fun, but joining the taste testing panel was “underwhelming”.
She then studied Natural Sciences in Cambridge and specialized in evolutionary genetics. She moved on to complete her DPhil at the University of Oxford, where she studied genetic control of mosquito populations. She wanted to continue studying interesting genetic systems, but also develop practical applications.
During an industrial studentship with Oxitec, she worked on generating genetically sterile mosquitoes and agricultural pests that can be used to combat disease and crop loss. Along the way, Jenny founded two not-for-profit companies. She did not exactly plan this, but she wanted to move projects forward and “suddenly you’re a company director”.
While in Oxford, Jenny had already become increasingly interested in open source approaches, and coordinated the Open Science Working Group at Open Knowledge International. She then decided that she needed fewer mosquitos in her life. So she stopped working on mosquitos and instead merged her interests in biotechnology and open science. She did this by coordinating synthetic biology initiatives at Cambridge University.
After three years of community building and establishing various interdisciplinary activities, she wanted to do hands-on again research, again. She now works to achieve social change using tools at the intersection of technology, education and open source. “My current job is amazing because I get to do exactly what I want to do.”