There have been a number of important developments of direct relevance to synthetic biology research in the UK including:
- the publication of ‘a synthetic biology roadmap for the UK’ which contained key recommendations to support and develop the UK research and industrial communities
- the establishment of the Synthetic Biology Leadership Council (bringing together stakeholders from government, funding agencies, academia and industry)
- an announcement of a government capital investment of £50 million in synthetic biology in the 2012 Autumn Statement.
To implement the roadmap recommendations, deliver on the investment from government and taking heed of the advice from the Synthetic Biology Leadership Council, the Research Councils came together to produce the business case for the Synthetic Biology for Growth Programme (SBfG).
To develop the strategy for the delivery/implementation of the capital monies through the SBfG programme, the RCUK Synthetic Biology Working Group was established, under the direction of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). This group meets regularly and comprises representatives from:
- the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
- the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
- the Medical Research Council (MRC)
- the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
- observers from Innovate UK and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL).
In total, the SBfG Programme represents investments of £102 million:
- £50 million Autumn Statement capital
- £1.37 million capital from BBSRC
- £50.5 million resource funding provided for six SBRCs by BBSRC, EPSRC and MRC.
The SBfG Programme consists of four streams of investment.
Multidisciplinary Synthetic Biology Research Centres (SBRCs)
Six SBRCs, representing a total investment of £70.5 million, have been allocated funding over five years to boost national synthetic biology research capacity and ensure that there is diverse expertise to stimulate innovation in this area.
Led by: Professor Dek Woolfson, University of Bristol
BrisSynBio aims to develop new techniques, technologies and reagents that will allow biologically-based products to be made easily, quickly and cheaply, and in sufficient quantities to make them useful.
Researchers hope to:
- develop new antibiotics
- assemble virus-like particles to present new routes to vaccines
- build simple cells from scratch
- use red blood cells to deliver complex molecules like anti-cancer drugs directly to tumours
- reprogram bacteria to perform useful tasks like sensing environmental pollutants.
Led by: Professor Nigel Minton, The University of Nottingham
SBRC Nottingham will provide sustainable routes to important chemicals that modern society needs. They aim to use synthetic biology to engineer bacteria to convert gases that are all around us – such as carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) – into more desirable and useful molecules, reducing our reliance on petrochemicals.
Led by: Professor David Baulcombe and Dr Jim Haseloff, University of Cambridge
Professor Dale Sanders and Professor Anne Osbourn, John Innes Centre
The OpenPlant initiative will establish internationally-linked DNA registries for sharing information about plant specific parts and simple testbeds. The development and exchange of new foundational tools and parts will directly contribute to the engineering of new traits in plants.
OpenPlant will also provide a forum for technical exchange and wider discussion of the potential impact of plant synthetic biology on conservation and sustainability.
UK Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology
Led by: Professor Susan Rosser, The University of Edinburgh
This Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology will build in-house expertise in synthetic biology in mammalian systems for use in areas such as:
- the pharmaceutical and drug testing industries
- biosensing cell lines for diagnostics
- novel therapeutics
- production of protein-based drugs, for example antibodies
- programming stem cell development for regenerative medicine applications.
Led by: Professor Nigel Scrutton, The University of Manchester
SYNBIOCHEM will bring scientists together to design and engineer biological parts, devices and systems for sustainable fine and speciality chemicals production. This includes new products and intermediates for drug development, agricultural chemicals and new materials for sustainable manufacturing.
Warwick Integrative Synthetic Biology Centre (WISB)
Led by: Professor John McCarthy, The University of Warwick
WISB will utilise state-of-the-art principles of biosystems design and engineering. This is in order to develop:
- next-generation synthetic biology tools
- biosynthetic pathways that generate valuable bioactives
- synthetic communities of microbes that could help improve the environment as well as skin and gut health
- plants with enhanced resistance to stress and pathogens.
Two phases of strategic capital investments in DNA synthesis totalling £18 million were made to:
- bring academic expertise to bear on bottlenecks in DNA synthesis
- build bridges between academia and synthetic biology companies
- help to nurture the UK’s growing synthetic biology industry
- boost UK’s capability in the area to help create jobs and drive economic growth.
First phase of investment
Edinburgh Genome Foundry
Led by: Professor Susan Rosser, The University of Edinburgh
The Edinburgh Genome Foundry will provide end-to-end design, construction and validation of large gene constructs (up to 1Mbp) for academia and industry, based on the automation of technologies.
A DNA synthesis and construction foundry for synthetic biology
Led by: Professor Paul Freemont, Imperial College London
The Imperial Foundry will develop an experimental platform to enable a standardised framework for DNA synthesis, gene and genome assembly and assembly verification.
Led by: Professor Anthon Hall, University of Liverpool
The Liverpool GeneMill will develop a high throughput, automated workflow for synthesising genes and DNA parts in bacteria, fungus, plant and mammalian cells.
Synthetic Biology Facility
Led by: Professor Hugh Pelham, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology
Up to £2 million to invest in a robotic platform to automate assembly of short DNA fragments into expressible genes. This includes the picking, growth and analysis of DNA from bacterial colonies.
DNA Synthesis at the Norwich Research Park
Led by: Dr Daniel Swan (previously Professor Mario Caccamo), Earlham Institute
The DNA synthesis facility at the Norwich Research Park will support the design, generation and exploitation of high-value compounds and bioactives obtained from plants and microbes.
Second phase of investment
Software Systems for Imperial College DNA Foundry
Led by: Professor Richard Kitney, Imperial College London
This will establish a platform to support a suite of synthetic biology software tools, allowing the seamless integration of hardware, management and analysis of generated data. This is for the purpose of building a professional DNA synthesis workflow.
Assay Development Platforms
Led by: Professor Susan Rosser, involving Edinburgh and Liverpool universities.
To enable the rapid design and synthesis of multiple varied DNA circuits (for example, metabolic pathways, biosensors, counting or memory devices) and interrogate the utility of these circuits within host cell chassis via an array of assays including:
- growth and fermentation characteristics
- cell health
- fluorescent reporters
- ribonucleic acid (RNA) seq
- metabolite profiling.
Building national hardware and software infrastructure for UK DNA Foundries
Led by: Dr Patrick Yizhi Cai, involving Edinburgh and Cambridge universities
This proposal seeks to enhance the national capacity of synthetic DNA design and manufacture, and to ensure the UK is internationally competitive and increase both national and international collaboration. It brings together three strong software teams across the UK to develop national hardwired and software infrastructure for UK DNA Foundries.
Next Generation DNA Synthesis
Led by: Professor Tom Brown, involving Oxford, Liverpool, Bristol, Southampton, and Birmingham universities
Ever larger pieces of DNA, such as genes and gene clusters, are required for Synthetic Biology, and making these can be a tedious and slow process. In this project they will analyse DNA made by modern ultra-high throughput chemical methods and optimise the process. They will also explore new ways to make large pieces of DNA.
Better training for students
Two capital investments of £1 million each were made to the two BBSRC and EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) in synthetic biology at Oxford/Bristol/Warwick, and UCL. The funding will provide equipment to enhance student training at the CDTs, which are world-leading training environments for students of synthetic biology.
The BBSRC and EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Synthetic Biology
Bristol, Oxford and Warwick universities
Up to £1 million capital funding to enhance this CDT, including a dedicated synthetic biology laboratory in Oxford accessible to all students throughout their PhD and specialist facilities in Warwick and Bristol. This will increase the breadth and depth of synthetic biology training by exposing students to a wide range of cutting-edge capabilities.
Sustaining world-class training and research innovation in synthetic biology-based biomanufacture
University College London (UCL)
Up to £1 million in capital funding for the EPSRC CDT in Bioprocess Engineering Leadership at UCL for the acquisition of state-of-the-art bioprocess and analytical equipment and establishment of dedicated training laboratories. This will stimulate development of new training activities which will be fully integrated within the IDC training programme.
Synthetic Biology Seed Fund
£10 million capital funding has been made available for investment through the Rainbow Seed Fund mechanism and is being managed by Midven. This fund is to support synthetic biology start-up companies and ‘pre-companies’ and was launched in November 2013.
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Last updated: 20 January 2022