EPSRC invests £5 million in synthetic biology applications

EPSRC invests £5 million in synthetic biology applications

9:47 AM, 29th May 2012
EPSRC invests £5 million in synthetic biology applications

SWINDON, UK: The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) will help the UK’s world-leading researchers in synthetic biology to establish platform technology in the emerging field with a new grant of almost £5 million. Platform technology is the crucial next step necessary for applications to be produced and commercialised.

The Flowers Consortium of five universities, Imperial College London, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Newcastle and King’s College London, carries out research into synthetic biology in the UK. The Consortium builds on earlier EPSRC investments such as the £4.5 million for the Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation (CsynBI) at Imperial which is co-directed by Professor Richard Kitney and Professor Paul Freemont.

Synthetic biology aims to design and engineer novel biologically based parts, devices and systems, and redesign existing natural biological systems for useful purposes. It is seen as affecting a wide range of industrial sectors including chemicals, materials, biosensors, biofuels and healthcare.

The platform technology will be based on an information system, SynBIS, which uses a web-based environment. SynBIS is currently in Beta trials and is expected to be available by the end of June. SynBIS will host BioCAD and modelling tools for the field. This opens up the possibility of undertaking high level software design of bioparts and devices which can be assembled using laboratory robots and other automatic methods.

The grant will also be used to establish a professional registry of biological parts and devices using a robotic data-collection pipeline for characterisation. The richer data that can be obtained will lead to improved mathematical modelling and in turn more predictable and reliable design and construction of the parts.

Another goal of the Consortium is to use funding to create a UK infrastructure for synthetic biology which will be widely available via a project web server that can be shared by universities throughout the UK and beyond, further enhancing UK and international collaborations such as the one with Stanford University. The Consortium is currently working on a number of applications and is engaging with industry to commercialise potential products. Two of these are biosensors for testing arsenic in water and for the earlier detection of urinary tract infections.

The emerging technology has the potential to make a major contribution to the government’s growth agenda, creating wealth and employment. In tandem with other fields of science, synthetic biology can play a significant part in addressing some of the key challenges that the world faces in the areas of energy, health and the environment.

“Engineering research and leadership is critical to the further development of the UK’s synthetic biology sector. Engineering technology provides the necessary product standardisation, robustness and design. We will continue to grow the investment we make in this area so that the UK’s research base continues to be world-leading,” said Dr Kedar Pandya, Engineering Theme Leader, EPSRC.

© EPSRC News

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