UK Engineering Biology receives £20.6 million funding boost

A scientist studying DNA sample in a lab.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) have invested £20.6 million into innovative projects across the UK.

The latest investment by UKRI partners and Dstl aims to:

  • bolster interdisciplinary research
  • build communities
  • drive the UK’s ambition to retain and sustain a world leading capability in Engineering Biology.

Paving the way for Engineering Biology

Building on previous investments, the new funding drives forward an exciting and ambitious programme of work for UK Engineering Biology that encompasses:

  • novel research
  • innovation and community
  • capacity development.

Transition awards

Twelve awards have been funded across 10 UK lead institutions for up to 24 months, totalling £14.78 million in investment.

The awards will enable the continued growth of research communities and capacity across the UK towards establishing the proposed National Engineering Biology programme.

They will also support the development of new and novel research ideas, such as:

  • engineering molecular constructs for improved control of insect diseases
  • engineering microbes to recover metals from the environment
  • engineering microbial communities
  • reducing carbon emissions in fermentation processes.

Breakthrough Ideas

Twenty-three awards have been funded across 15 UK lead institutions for up to 12 months, with a total of £2.25 million invested, including co-funding from Dstl.

The awards will support the development of breakthrough ideas in Engineering Biology that span across:

  • novel materials
  • bio-inspired design
  • bioengineered cells and systems.

Awards include:

  • development of novel optical materials using DNA origami
  • modification of biological machinery for protein production
  • design of synthetic cells for cancer drug delivery.

Synthetic Biology Research Centre (SBRC) supplementary funding

Six existing SBRCs, previously established through UKRI’s Synthetic Biology for Growth programme, received supplementary funding until the end of March 2022.

Totalling £3.58 million, this short-term yet crucial investment ensured the continued stability of the six research centres while maintaining their previously established levels of capability on behalf of the UK.

The six SBRCs that received supplementary funding are:

  • BrisSynBio SBRC (University of Bristol)
  • Nottingham SBRC (University of Nottingham)
  • OpenPlant SBRC (University of Cambridge, John Innes Centre and the Earlham Institute)
  • SBRC for Synthetic Biology of Fine and Specialty Chemicals (University of Manchester)
  • Warwick Integrative Synthetic Biology Centre (University of Warwick)
  • UK Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology (The University of Edinburgh).

A very real opportunity for the UK

Professor Melanie Welham, Executive Chair of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Chair of the UKRI cross-council steering group on Engineering Biology, said:

Engineering Biology is an exciting area of research that harnesses synthetic biology concepts and translates them into tangible real world solutions.

It also presents a very real opportunity for the UK to lead in creating and delivering significant economic and societal impacts on a global scale.

The innovative projects being funded by UKRI and its partners are truly diverse, ranging from bio-inspired designs and novel materials to bioengineered cells and systems.

More importantly, they will cut across and deliver impact for a host of different sectors including healthcare, manufacturing and agriculture to name but a few, as well as contributing towards the UK’s net zero goals.

Further information

UK Engineering Biology partners are:

  • Dstl
  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
  • Innovate UK
  • Medical Research Council
  • Natural Environment Research Council.

Top image:  Credit: janiecbros, E+ via Getty Images Plus

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