Engineering biology research, community and capacity development

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Apply for funding for research, community and capacity development in engineering biology. This funding comes from the Engineering Biology Transition Awards.

Your project must align with the themes of the proposed National Engineering Biology Programme (NEBP). We encourage applications from other disciplines and communities, and applications with industrial partners

You must be of lecturer level or above and based at an eligible research organisation.

Your project’s full economic cost can be up to £1,875,000. We will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Projects can be up to 24 months. You must start your project no later than 31 January 2022.

Who can apply

This funding opportunity is being delivered by BBSRC on behalf of UKRI partners.

Standard BBSRC eligibility criteria apply to this opportunity and applicants from eligible UK-based organisations are invited. Please see BBSRC research grants guide (PDF, 375KB).

Institutions and researchers normally eligible for UKRI funding include:

  • higher education institutions
  • strategically funded institutes
  • eligible independent research organisations (IROs)
  • public sector research establishments.

Applications from organisations or individuals that are not eligible will be rejected without reference to panel review.

New collaborations between and across institutions are strongly encouraged, as well as collaborations with private sector partners. However, please note that businesses cannot be funded through this opportunity. The nature of the collaboration and the role of the industrial partner should be made clear in the case for support.

Partnerships with international research groups, where they add value to the project through access to key facilities or in-kind contributions are encouraged. Funding will only be provided to UK eligible organisations, but international researchers can be named as project partners as per the standard BBSRC research grants guide (PDF, 375KB).

Principal investigators and co-investigators must be at lecturer level (or equivalent) or above and meet the standard UKRI eligibility criteria.

Applications are encouraged from investigators that may not consider themselves to have a track record in engineering biology, such as individuals from other disciplines that are looking to explore the potential impact of engineering biology across disciplines.

It is anticipated that these investigators will provide evidence as to how their current expertise will bring a new dimension to engineering biology. Also, where appropriate, how they will work with others to ensure the appropriate expertise is sought to ensure the success of the application.

Development of exemplars in engineering biology beyond current known applications are welcomed. In addition to supporting individuals lacking track records in engineering biology, we also encourage individuals who are established in the field of engineering biology. This is to explore new collaborations and ideas, bringing in other disciplines, sectors and academic or industrial partners to explore novel aspects and applications of engineering biology and to catalyse novel innovative ideas.

Please note that this opportunity is distinct to the current ‘engineering biology breakthrough awards’ and the same idea should not be submitted to both funding opportunities. However, assuming eligibility criteria are met, an applicant can apply to both funding calls with distinct proposals.

Institutions are encouraged to rigorously consider and prioritise applications submitted to this funding opportunity. Through this opportunity we seek to encourage a diversity of awards.

While there is no limit on the number of applications per institution, where more than one application is submitted from a single lead institution, it should be clear in the cover letter of each the complementary and thematic distinction between the applications.

For any queries about eligibility, please contact eligibility@bbsrc.ukri.org before submitting your application.

What we're looking for

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:

  • clinical
  • manufacturing
  • environmental
  • agricultural.

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.

Themes

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.

Food systems

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.

Biomedicine

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.

Clean growth

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.

Environmental 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:

  • bioremediation
  • waste management
  • biomining
  • resilient agri-environmental systems and ecosystems.

Bio-inspired design

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.

Novel materials

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 engbio@bbsrc.ukri.org.

This funding opportunity will follow the standard guidelines for research grant applications as described in the BBSRC research grants guide (PDF, 375KB).

How to apply

You must apply using the Joint Electronic Submission system (Je-S) before 16:00 on 22 September 2021.

When applying select:

  • council: BBSRC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: standard
  • call/type/mode: Engineering Biology Transition Awards.

For advice on completing applications to BBSRC, see the Je-S handbook.

Before applying, please read the full BBSRC research grants guide (PDF, 375KB).

Your host organisation’s administration is required to complete the submission process. Applicants should allow sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process between submitting your proposal to them and the closing date.

UKRI partners must receive your full proposal application by 16:00 on 22 September 2021.

As well as the Je-S application form, the following documents must be submitted.

You should attach your documents as PDFs to avoid errors. They should be completed in single-spaced Arial 11 font or similar-sized sans serif typeface.

  • proposal cover letter (one page)
  • title of project to be prefixed ‘21EBTA’
  • case for support (up to eight pages)
  • justification of resources (up to two pages)
  • capability to deliver (up to two pages)
  • data management plan
  • host institution letter of support, if appropriate
  • project partner letters of support, if appropriate.

CVs are not required. Relevant eligibility and track record information will be captured through the ‘capability to delivery’ document. For further information, please see the capability to delivery guidance (PDF, 16KB).

For detailed guidance on how to prepare each of these attachments, please carefully follow the associated guidance documents and downloads.

Please note that we are unable to accept late submissions.

Please ensure that you include a workplan within the eight page case for support page limit, per the instruction in the Engineering Biology Transition Awards guidance (PDF, 81KB)

When submitting via Je-S, the system may require that you submit a separate workplan. Please submit a blank document referring to the case for support, to ensure that you can finalise your submission.

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

All eligible proposals that are in scope of the funding opportunity will be peer-reviewed and subsequently assessed by a specially convened independent, multidisciplinary expert panel against the criteria below.

This process will use a rapid peer review and rebuttal timeline and applicants will need to ensure that they are available between 26 October and 9 November to provide rebuttal to comments from reviews.

It is anticipated that reviews will be provided to applicants on 26 October and rebuttal is required within 14 days, by close of play 9 November.

This is a requirement of application to ensure timely review and assessment and failure to reply within this window could impact on the success of the award.

The panel will include representatives from a range of fields with appropriate expertise across all involved UKRI partner remits (BBSRC, EPSRC, MRC, NERC), including:

  • healthcare
  • environmental solutions
  • biosciences
  • computational sciences
  • engineering.

UKRI reserves the right to modify the assessment process in response to demand.

The panel will assess the applications against the criteria for assessment and provide the funders with a recommended rank-ordered list of applications.

Applicants should ensure that sufficient details of their proposed project, approaches and methods are provided within the case for support to enable the application to be assessed by panel members with relevant, but not necessarily specialist, expertise.

Subject to demand on the competition, feedback will be generated by the assessment panel and provided to all applicants within two months of being notified of the panel’s decision.

Assessment criteria

UKRI reserves the right to reject applications, without reference to peer review, which are deemed to fall outside the remit and scope (including the financial scope) of this funding opportunity.

If required, expert advice from a sub-group of the panel will be sought regarding fit to scope, noting that this will not be an assessment of the quality of the proposal. Only those proposals falling within the scope of the opportunity, having submitted the appropriate documentation, will be peer reviewed and sent for assessment by the panel.

Peer review will be conducted by a managed pool of reviews and subsequently assessed at panel. Applicants will receive the opportunity to respond to the comments of the reviews in advance of the panel meeting.

The assessment of applications will reflect the scope of the fund and applications will be assessed against the following criteria:

  • fit to the scope of the funding opportunity
  • scientific quality
  • strategic relevance to the national research portfolio
  • value for money
  • impact and engagement
  • leadership, management and governance
  • capability to deliver.

Full assessment criteria can be found in the accompanying document.

Subject to the demand and volume of applications received across the seven themes, the office reserves the right to conduct portfolio management to ensure a balance of projects are funded through this opportunity.

Contact details

Ask about the opportunity

Email: engbio@bbsrc.ukri.org

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