Engineering biology is the process of taking synthetic biology concepts and translating them into real-world solutions. It is the design and fabrication of biological components and systems using engineering technologies and principles, from modifications to natural systems through to artificial biology.
Consequently, engineering biology encompasses the entire innovation ecosystem, from breakthrough synthetic biology research to translation and application.
Engineering biology has the potential to offer solutions to a range of global societal challenges. This opportunity encourages new collaborations and will draw together community efforts across engineering biology, towards the themes and challenges of the proposed National Engineering Biology Programme, details of which can be found in the engineering biology overview (PDF, 103KB).
Transition awards will enable both the creation of communities, towards new and novel research activities, and the support for existing research communities, by taking current expertise and impact and driving it further through research development and commercial partnership.
We strongly encourage applicants from disciplines and communities seeking to drive cutting-edge fundamental engineering biology ideas and opportunities, or providing additional systems expertise, that can pull-through into impacts in key sectors, for example:
It is anticipated that successful grants will help deliver the aims of this opportunity, to:
- support discovery and application inspired research and innovation activities and community development, further facilitating multi and interdisciplinary working aligned with the themes of the proposed National Engineering Biology Programme
- maintain capability and capacity in the UK, by establishing community collaborations both new and through enhancing existing centres of excellence to further develop activities and undergo a step-change
- build on existing expertise and fundamental research to drive impact through translation and commercial partnership, depending on the research area.
It should be clear within the application, the link with engineering biology and how UK engineering biology communities and capabilities will benefit from the delivery of this proposal.
Through community consultation, the vision for a proposed National Engineering Biology Programme has been developed around seven core thematic challenges and associated transformative research and technologies that will underpin and enhance the potential of engineering biology engineering biology overview (PDF, 103KB).
This opportunity invites the development of thematic transition awards, across all seven themes of the proposed National Engineering Biology Programme. These descriptions are not exhaustive and all ideas that fit these themes are encouraged.
The food systems theme aims to develop research and technology applications to deliver productive, resilient and sustainable food and farming. In this theme we anticipate that engineering biology will be used to address:
- breeding and traits in crops and animals
- soil microbiomes
- disease control
- securing the supply of food
- alternative agriculture and farming solutions.
The biomedicine theme aims to drive innovative means to improve health, including for prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases. We anticipate that engineering biology would enable development of novel technologies and solutions, such as:
- engineered cells, tissues or networks
- biomaterials for regenerative medicine
- precision drug targeting
- novel diagnostics
- vaccine development
- advanced therapies manufacture.
The clean growth theme aims to deliver solutions to support domestic commitments towards a greener and more sustainable future. In this theme we anticipate that engineering biology will:
- present bio-manufacturing solutions
- create sustainable and renewable supply chains
- develop efficient and smart power generation and storage solutions.
The environmental solutions theme aims to develop research and technology solutions towards delivering a healthy, productive and resilient environment. In this theme we anticipate that engineering biology technologies can be developed and applied to address challenges including:
- waste management
- resilient agri-environmental systems and ecosystems.
The bio-inspired design theme aims to build on the fundamental potential of biology. In this theme we anticipate that engineering biology will be exploited to utilise and enhance the properties of nature for biotechnological solutions, such as:
- the sensitivity of receptors in a dog’s nose and broader sentinel organisms
- navigation due to magnetoreception in a bird’s brain
- the data storage and computing capability of nucleic acids and cells.
The novel materials theme aims to develop new materials, products and production processes. It is anticipated that engineering biology can be used to create more sustainable production processes or alternative production solutions, and develop:
- new materials
- non-natural materials
- integrated materials
- smart or functional materials.
Bioengineered cells and systems
The bioengineered cells and systems theme aims to develop novel approaches and technologies that allow us to construct from new (‘de novo’) or modify existing cell and biological systems efficiently and effectively.
We anticipate that engineering biology will:
- be applied to innovation in precision genome engineering technologies
- meet challenges at different biological scales (for example synthetic organelles, functionally-modified cells, hybrid networks such as brain-computer interfaces)
- further the development and control of minimal protocells, synthetic microbial communities, and artificial life.
Recognising that these themes do not have hard boundaries, ideas that cut across and between the themes are also encouraged, such as those that span the remits of the research council partners.
In a similar fashion, the following will also be accepted:
- transition award concepts that overlap with cross-cutting tools and technologies (for example, rational design, sensors, artificial intelligence)
- more fundamental underpinning enablers (for example, manufacturing, scale-up opportunities, or responsible research and innovation (RRI).
Examples of flexible funding
New collaborations and partnerships are strongly encouraged, including across disciplines and sectors, and internationally. While this opportunity will not support funding directly to business and international partners, we anticipate that a proportion of the funding associated with these transition awards will be used in a flexible manner, by the applicant, to facilitate collaborations and partnerships.
While it is not limited to the following examples, we anticipate the proposals will encompass mechanisms, such as those below, through which this flexible funding could be delivered.
A brief description of the mechanisms proposed should be included, including how a robust application, review and award process would be implemented. Please note that funds can be provided to academic partners only. Examples of mechanisms include:
Business interaction vouchers
To encourage and support collaboration between academics and industrialists. The collaboration can be any defined piece of work by the academic partner for the industrial partner.
These vouchers would facilitate small confidence-building measures between an academic partner and industrial based partner and would likely lead to a longer-term relationship, improved interactions, new funding ventures and new technology transfer projects.
It is anticipated that this funding will be matched by industrial funding, in cash or in kind, of at least equivalent value. Indicative funding amount of up to £25,000 per award (at 80% full economic cost).
Proof of concept awards
To encourage and support the next steps in collaboration between academic-academic and academic-industry partners. It is anticipated that these funds will help resource small, proof of concept as well as small scale “scouting” projects, between academic and industrial based partners with the view that they will deliver more significant future outcomes.
Novel exemplars of resource deployment
To enable pilot work to catalyse or add value to existing activities aligned with the theme, or the development of innovative opportunities to support the creation or sharing of tools, technology, model computational approaches and new concepts.
Flexibility interchange and mobility awards
To facilitate individuals moving between different organisations, disciplines and sectors, at all stages in their career beyond the PhD (or equivalent). These may aim to:
- take established research programmes in a radically new direction, aligned with the themes of the proposed National Engineering Biology Programme
- enhance opportunities for the exchange of knowledge, technology and people between the research base and user communities and vice versa
- facilitate the development of partnerships to foster longer-term collaborations
- allow for an expansion of the skill base of individuals, particularly in emerging, niche and vulnerable areas alongside our strategic priorities.
Existing investments and exclusions
If an application is building upon previous significant investment and pre-existing community activity, applicants should demonstrate how their proposal will drive the transition of research, technologies and processes along the ‘technology readiness levels’ towards commercialisation. While, where appropriate, maintaining fundamental research programme activity.
Applications are welcome from existing sites or partnerships with critical mass in engineering biology, to expand and evolve existing research programmes. In such cases it should be made clear how the application is focusing on themes within the proposed National Engineering Biology Programme and how development of current programmes has been considered.
Proposals in the following areas will not be accepted:
- proposals that do not fit the scope of this opportunity
- projects with an exclusive focus on purchase of equipment
- resubmissions of previously unsuccessful proposals.
If you are unsure whether your application fits within the scope, please contact us well in advance of the deadline at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This funding opportunity will follow the standard guidelines for research grant applications as described in the BBSRC research grants guide (PDF, 375KB).