New £100m fund will unlock the potential of engineering biology

Six new Engineering Biology Mission Hubs and 22 Mission Awards to transform solutions in areas like vaccine, textile and food production.

Funding for six new UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Engineering Biology Mission Hubs and 22 Mission Award projects, was announced today by Andrew Griffith, Minister for Science, Research and Innovation.

Engineering biology has enormous potential to address global challenges, drive economic growth, and increase national security, resilience and preparedness. These mission hubs and awards projects will play a key role in achieving the goals of government’s national vision for engineering biology that was announced in December 2023.

Involving multiple academic and industrial partners

The hubs will each receive up to £12 million from the UKRI Technology Missions Fund and UKRI and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s (BBSRC) core budgets. They will be funded for five years, be based across the country, and involve multiple academic and industrial partners.

The successful hubs will be led by:

  • Cranfield University
  • Imperial College London
  • The University of Edinburgh
  • University of Kent
  • University of Nottingham
  • University of Portsmouth

This week minister Griffith visited the new GlycoCell Hub based at the University of Nottingham. He visited the hub to understand how it is helping to exploit engineering biology to produce new vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics, by industrialising the bio-manufacture of sugar biomolecules crucial to their development.

This hub aims to deliver a platform that will be central to UK epidemic preparedness.

Power to transform our health and environment

Announcing the funding the Science, Research and Innovation Minister, Andrew Griffith, said:

Engineering biology has the power to transform our health and environment, from developing life-saving medicines to protecting our environment and food supply and beyond.

Our latest £100m investment through the UKRI Technology Missions Fund will unlock projects as diverse as developing vaccines, as I saw in Nottingham this week, preventing food waste through disease resistant crops, reducing plastic pollution, and even driving efforts to treat snakebites.

With new Hubs and Mission Awards spread across the country, from Edinburgh to Portsmouth, we are supporting ambitious researchers and innovators around the UK in pioneering groundbreaking new solutions which can transform how we live our lives, while growing our economy.

The hubs will be complemented by a series of mission awards that will fund projects for two years and receive a share of £30 million funding. The awards aim to create an expansion of engineering biology disciplines and communities, building on existing UK strengths and emerging opportunities.

Tackling major global challenges

Dr Amanda Collis, UKRI Technology Mission Director for Engineering Biology and interim Deputy Executive Chair of BBSRC said:

UKRI is investing £100 million to unlock the potential of Engineering Biology across a broad range of applications, tackling major global challenges and stimulating economic growth.

This investment builds upon the UK’s significant strengths in Engineering Biology. The Hubs and Mission Awards will support collaboration between disciplines, with business, and across the regions and nations of the UK, as well as enable partnership with other countries. Together they make an important contribution towards realizing the ambitions set out in the UK Government’s National Vision for Engineering Biology.

Potential to change many aspects of our lives

Dr Kedar Pandya, UKRI Technology Missions Fund Senior Responsible Owner and Executive Director of Cross-Council Programmes at UKRI’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council said:

Engineering Biology is one of the critical technologies for the UK strength and opportunity identified in the Innovation Strategy. It has the potential to change many aspects of our lives, from how we grow our food, to developing new medical treatments, and on through to clean growth that will develop more environmentally sustainable manufacturing processes and supply chains, as well improved diagnosis of, and cures for, environmental issues.

These new Hubs and Missions projects will enhance the UK’s already strong pedigree in the field and bring societal and economic benefits to the country. UKRI is investing £320 million in Technology Missions to enable new and existing capabilities and capacity in artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, engineering biology and future telecommunications in the years 2023-2025 and beyond.

Further information

UKRI Technology Missions Fund

The fund is designed to exploit the UK’s global leadership in transformative technologies to help solve specific problems, while also helping cement that leading position.

Overall, UKRI is investing £250 million in technology missions to enable new and existing capabilities and capacity in artificial intelligence, quantum technologies and engineering biology in the years 2023 to 2025 and beyond. With a further £70 million announced to support future telecommunications.

National vision for engineering biology

The national vision for engineering biology published in December 2023 defines the UK government’s collective ambition for engineering biology. It also sets the direction in which government investment, policy and regulatory reform will deliver through the strands of the Science and Technology Framework.

Mission hubs

Environmental Biotechnology Innovation Centre

Lead principal investigator: Frederic Coulon, Cranfield University

Mission area theme: environmental solutions

Engineering Biology Hub for Microbial Foods

Lead principal investigator: Rodrigo Ledesma Amaro, Imperial College London

Mission area theme: food systems

Engineered Genetic Control Systems for Advanced Therapeutics

Lead principal investigator: Susan Rosser, The University of Edinburgh

Mission area theme: biomedicine

Engineering Biology Hub for environmental processing and recovery of metals; from contaminated land to industrial biotechnology in a circular economy

Lead principal investigator: Martin Warren, University of Kent

Mission area theme: clean growth and environmental solutions

GlycoCell Engineering Biology Mission Hub: Transforming glycan biomanufacture for health

Lead principal investigator: John Heap, University of Nottingham

Mission area theme: biomedical and food systems

Preventing Plastic Pollution with Engineering Biology (P3EB) Mission Hub

Lead principal investigator: Andrew Pickford, University of Portsmouth

Mission area theme: environmental solutions and clean growth

Mission awards

ALMOND: agriculture living machine of operational nano droplets

Lead principal investigator: Oliver Castell, Cardiff University

Mission area theme: food systems

Engineering gene regulatory networks to design disease-resistant crops

Lead principal investigator: Nicola Joan Patron, Earlham Institute

Mission area theme: food systems

Sustainable style for clean growth: innovating textile production through engineering biology

Lead principal investigator: Thomas Ellis, Imperial College London

Mission area theme: clean growth

EBioAct: Environmentally sustainable production of bioactive triterpenes

Lead principal investigator: Anne Osbourn, John Innes Centre

Mission area theme: clean growth

Engineering of extracellular vesicles for oral delivery of nucleic acid therapies

Lead principal investigator: Driton Vllasaliu, King’s College London

Mission area theme: biomedicine

Applying synthetic biology to the development of in vivo technologies for the monitoring and control of vector-borne diseases

Lead principal investigator: Tony Nolan, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

Mission area theme: biomedicine

Scalable production of precisely engineered proteins using an expanded genetic code

Lead principal investigator: Anthony Green, The University of Manchester

Mission area theme: clean growth

Engineering biology for critical metal recovery from industrial wastestreams

Lead principal investigator: Jonathan Lloyd, The University of Manchester

Mission area theme: environmental solutions

SafePhage: engineering synthetic phages with intrinsic biocontainment

Principal investigator: Michael Brockhurst, The University of Manchester

Mission area theme: clean growth

A powerful directed-evolution tool for exploitation of chloroplast engineering biology

Principal investigator: Saul Purton, University College London

Mission area theme: clean growth

Haemotoxic and cytotoxic snake venom metalloproteinases – production, enzymatic specificity, snakebite treatment, and biomedical use

Principal investigator: Christiane Berger-Schaffitzel, University of Bristol

Mission area theme: biomedicine

Cyanobacteria engineering for restoring environments (CYBER)

Principal investigator: Thomas Gorochowski, University of Bristol

Mission area theme: environmental solutions

OpenBioMAPS: shared tools for accelerating UK bio-manufacturing

Principal investigator: James Haseloff, University of Cambridge

Mission area theme: clean growth

Engineering semi-artificial cells for new-to-nature photosynthesis

Principal investigator: Jenny Zhang, University of Cambridge

Mission area theme: clean growth

MAST, modular activator and silencer therapeutics

Principal investigator: Laura Itzhaki, University of Cambridge

Mission area theme: biomedicine

Synthetically engineered microalgae for improved gut function and human health

Principal investigator: Ian Watson, University of Glasgow

Mission area theme: biomedicine

Evaluation and optimisation of new engineered human apoferritins: protein nanocages for targeted drug delivery and intracellular cargo release

Principal investigator: Neil Thomas, University of Nottingham

Mission area theme: biomedicine

Towards sustainable cultured meat production by developing a novel biocatalyst

Principal investigator: Hua Ye, University of Oxford

Mission area theme: food systems

Electrospun mucoadhesive matrices for polymersome-mediated mRNA vaccine delivery

Principal investigator: Helen Colley, The University of Sheffield

Mission area theme: biomedicine

Engineering Streptomyces bacteria for the sustainable manufacture of antibiotics

Principal investigator: Paul Hoskisson, University of Strathclyde

Mission area theme: clean growth

Optimal cell factories for membrane protein production

Principal investigator: Alexander Darlington, University of Warwick

Mission area theme: biomedicine

Engineering insects for novel food or feed and waste management

Principal investigator: Luke Alphey, University of York

Mission area theme: food systems

Top image:  Science, Research and Innovation Minister Andrew Griffith visiting the new GlycoCell Hub. Credit: University of Nottingham

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